Duffy v Google: 2015

In February 2011, after eighteen months of notifying and pleading with Google to remove links to serious false and defamatory content on Ripoff Report and published at the top of the Google search results for my name, I filed defamation proceedings in the South Australian District Court (later moved to the South Australian Supreme Court).

For awhile I thought that when served with defamation proceedings Google would just remove the links. In Duffy v Google Inc (No 3) [2016] SASC 1 921 January 2016, the trial Justice, Blue J, accepted that I just wanted to obtain removal [45]. Had that occurred, I would have withdrawn my claim, paid my own legal bills, and moved on with my life.  I was acutely aware that if the matter went to trial the media publicity and nature of the internet meant my life would be changed forever.

On 27 October 2015 Google was found to be a publisher in the South Australian Supreme Court. Google appealed and we cross appealed. Final submissions from both parties were filed in the third week of June 2016. The Full Court has reserved its decision.

Given the proliferation of publications that do not represent the true facts and circumstances of the proceedings and subsequent trial and subsequent online abuse, I have decided to write an overview of the background to my case, the circumstances of the trial (I represented myself), and the impact of the aftermath.

The Trial

As I write this it has now been 1 year and 11.5 months since I realised that I had to represent myself in a forthcoming Supreme Court trial with no legal experience and no idea what to do. I had 18 days to prepare all of the trial books (on an old printer and second hand binder bought off eBay), issue and deliver subpoenas and try to read the law.

The trial commenced on 22 June 2015. I arrived on the first day with a shopping cart of trial books so exhausted that I could barely stand up. The Defendant ran a ‘scorched earth’ defence (a strategy used by a party in a legal proceedings tried to portray the other party in the worse light possible), withheld documents, and dumped documents at my house on a Saturday – less than 48 hours before the trial began.

The trial ran for 7 court days with a further two days in August 2015 for closing oral arguments. It was absolutely horrendous and I went home every day and curled up and sobbed. Even the Defendant’s own medical expert testified to the extreme deleterious effect on my physical and mental health in the subsequent damages trial.

On 27 October 2015 Google Inc were found liable for publishing the defamatory content and on 23 December 2015 I was awarded damages. Blue J split the trial into two and if Google were found to be publishers he proposed to move onto other matters such as the defence of triviality, quantum of damages and costs.

I was exhausted and extremely distressed both during and after the liability trial. At one stage during the trial I was crying outside the Supreme Court. I pleaded with the Defendant’s lawyers as they walked by to stop trying to twist the evidence and denigrate my character. Google’s in-house representative said to me to tell the Judge that I withdrew the case. I replied that I would not and one of their lawyers then said, “well Dr Duffy, call Lifeline”.

This was exacerbated by online attacks and ridicule published online and thrown at me primarily from a group of influential  and educated people who equated my win with the death knell of global free speech and who should have known better.

Luckily I had lawyers for the subsequent legal matters. A Judge can only rule on the evidence before him. One of the outcomes of representing myself was that the Defendant’s scorched earth defence partially succeeded. Although my lawyers were able to subsequently fix some of this damage, much remains.

In addition to online publications and direct attacks during and directly after the trial I have been subjected to threats of harm sent to my house.