Contempt Hearing Set in Internet Libel Case

March 27, 2002 ( - A California state judge wants to know why two former employees of a Palo Alto company, who were already found to have libeled their former employer on the Internet, are still posting offending online messages.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jack Komar scheduled a hearing in July so that defendants Mary Day and Michelangelo Delfino can convince him that they shouldn’t be held in contempt. Komar issued a permanent injunction in December after a jury trial, barring Day and Delfino from posting libelous Internet material.

Lawyers for Day and Delfino also said that their clients shouldn’t be forced to turn over a list of their online screen names, arguing that Komar’s order to do so violates their right not to incriminate themselves.

Day and Delfino are also fighting back in an appeals court. Attorney Jon Eisenberg, representing Day and Delfino on appeal, has called the injunction an unlawful prior restraint and said he would fight Komar in a higher court if the judge jailed his clients at the July 11 contempt hearing.

Case History

In the December trial, the Santa Clara jury decided that Delfino and Day had libeled Varian Medical Systems and two executives by posting more than 14,000 defamatory and often vulgar messages on more than 100 Internet message boards and their own Web site.

The jury awarded $775,000 in damages against Day and Delfino.

The jury also found that the defendants had defamed Varian Vice President George Zdasiuk and manager Susan Felch, who were often targets of messages accusing them of having extramarital affairs, being a danger to children, videotaping office bathrooms, being chronic liars, and hallucinating.

After the jury began deliberating, the Santa Clara judge made a finding of fact that Day and Delfino had defamed the plaintiffs and prohibited them from posting specific statements.