Sandmann lawyer: Letters sent to New York Times, Today Show, 50 others may precede suits
The lawyers representing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann and his family said Friday they have sent letters to media outlets, individual journalists, celebrities and Catholic organizations as the first step in possible libel and defamation lawsuits.
The list includes 50-plus names of organizations or individuals: from presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren to actress Alyssa Milano; individual journalists including Maggie Haberman, Ana Cabrera and David Brooks; national media outlets like the The New York Times, CNN, GQ and TMZ; and the dioceses of Covington and Lexington as well as the archdioceses of Louisville and Baltimore.
Nick, as well as his school, faced threats from those angered by video showing him, his classmates and Native Americans engaged in a much-debated confrontation. Some of the students wore "Make America Great Again" hats. Some students chanted and performed the tomahawk chop.
The legal counsel representing Nick and his family, Todd McMurtry and experienced libel and defamation lawyer L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, have said they will seek justice for the harm allegedly done to the teen.
McMurtry said an example of false reports were those saying Nick got into the face of Phillips.
McMurtry added his belief that some in the aftermath of the incident "permanently stained (Nick's) reputation."
Lawyer Todd McMurtry (Photo: Provided/Adam & Keli Photography)
McMurtry is with the law firm of Hemmer Defrank Wessels and has practiced law in Greater Cincinnati since 1991. He said a team of seven lawyers has been working full-time to review the media accounts of what happened.
This week they have prepared documentation preservation letters addressed to organizations and individuals they believe may have defamed or libeled Nick with false reporting, McMurtry said.
McMurtry said the following organizations and people are those who can expect to receive the letters, which were all sent by the close of business on Friday.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
Cable News Network, Inc. (CNN)
National Public Radio
Atlantic Media Inc.
Capitol Hill Publishing Corp.
Diocese of Covington
Diocese of Lexington
Archdiocese of Louisville
Diocese of Baltimore
Elliot C. McLaughlin
Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
Michael E. Miller
Emily S. Rueb
Eun Kyung Kim
"They know they crossed the line," McMurtry said. "Do they want 12 people in Kentucky to decide their fate? I don't think so."
He added that those on the list will "raise legal defenses and challenges that we'll have to overcome, but that's the way it goes."
The letters tell the organizations and individuals not to destroy any documents in connection with the case, the attorney said. For example, the documents could be drafts or early versions of articles or emails among staff discussing the story.
McMurtry said he and Wood sent slightly different letters, but there were no substantive differences between them.
After a review, the lawyers "concluded we have a good faith basis to sue" certain organizations, McMurtry said.
However, he said not all the organizations who were sent letters will necessarily be sued. He added that this process will not be over quickly.
McMurtry said his clients will also be demanding retractions and apologies in addition to possible litigation.
"We want to change the conversation. We don't want this to happen again," McMurtry said. "We want to teach people a lesson."
He went on to say the lesson that is the media cannot state as fact things that aren't true.
"There was a rush by the media to believe what it wanted to believe versus what actually happened," McMurtry said.
The students were in Washington D.C. for a March for Life event.
Phillips, the Native American elder, said he approached the students to defuse a tense exchange between them and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, a reported hate group.
Phillips has said he felt intimidated by the students.
The first short clip that caught the attention of people on social media prompted calls of racism. Extended footage later surfaced in the days after the event, showing the reported hate group lobbing insults at the students.
McMurtry said the next steps for lawyers will likely involve conversations and negotiations with the legal teams of organizations and then possibly filing lawsuits.
"For the mob to just go tear apart a 16-year-old boy is inexcusable," McMurtry said. "He'll never be able to get away from this."
The Diocese of Covington and the Diocese of Lexington declined to comment. Emails seeking comment from other organizations listed have not been immediately returned.