Calling a Lawyer Dennis Denuto is Not Defamatory

Every Lawyer has at some stage been mocked by being called “Rake”, “Lionel Hutz” or the ever favourite “Dennis Denuto”.

I personally prefer the more obscure “My Cousin Vinny” or “Bizarro Atticus“. Either way, just about every lawyer cops benign banter and just has to smile sweetly and suppress retaliating against their career-challenged antagoniser.

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Perhaps Queensland lawyer Brett Smith had simply heard the jibe one too many times in his life and after being called “Dennis Denuto” and a deluge of other names in open court, Mr Smith launched a defamation action against the party who saw fit to mock him so brazenly.

Brett Smith was appearing in a Family Law matter for his daughter-in-law, and the former partner of his daughter (the respondent in the family proceedings). The ex-partner referred to Mr Smith as “Dennis Denuto from Ipswich” in Court and in emails which led to Mr Smith claiming $250,000 in damages and an apology.

In defending the defamation the solicitors had more fun at Mr Smith’s expense and took every convenience to refer to Brett Smith as the “BS lawyer” from his “BS practice” with his “BS website” . As someone with BS initials, this is a pain I know all too well.

A range of defences were deployed including “truth”, “the vibe” and that it was actually a favourable comparison because DD was eventually victorious in the High Court.

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The Queensland District Court passed up the opportunity to join the frivolity and dismissed the action on the basis of triviality under s33 of the Defamation Act 2005 (Qld). Going further to find that Mr Smith had in fact “called in an airstrike on his own position” [52] by fighting the imputation and unwittingly conjuring the Barbara Streisand effect. The BS effect is a well-known internet phenomenon  whereby the action of trying to prevent a negative thing from getting attention leads to the thing getting attention more than it would have otherwise.

In Mr Smith’s case the insults got international news coverage following his filing and importantly you’re now reading about it as well, whereas chances are that none of us would have heard of the jibes if Mr Smith had just rolled his eyes.

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