[Editor’s note: Compounding a fraudulent lawsuit over a fabricated death certificate with fake news from a journal for Minnesota lawyers, no less. How many false claims and distortions can you identify? Here’s an example. The subtitle, which appears at the bottom of the featured image (above), “Defamation Defendant accused him of faking son’s death certificate”. Except that I am the Defendant and I didn’t do that. Perhaps it’s too subtle for a Minnesota lawyers’ journal, but I asserted (three times in 2015 and in 2016 and a fourth time in 2018) that the death certificate the Plaintiff had shared with my colleague, Kelley Watt, is a fabrication, not that the Plaintiff had faked it. The author of this ridiculous story did not even bother to examine the Complaint, where the four allegedly defamatory statements are specified, word for word. Doesn’t MINNESOTA LAWYER care about getting the facts right? Why am I not surprised? I am encountering one legal absurdity after another in this case.]
When a Dane County Wisconsin jury returned a $450,000 verdict in favor of Leonard Pozner, he wasn’t in the courtroom. He didn’t feel safe walking in the dark through the people gathered at the courthouse.
Pozner’s son Noah was murdered in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and the conspiracy theorists haven’t let up on him or other parents since. Their theory is that Sandy Hook didn’t happen and it’s all a ruse so the government can confiscate people’s firearms.
Pozner decided to fight the conspiracy rumormongers and consequently has been targeted. Death threats recur and other harassment triggers Pozner’s chronic PTSD. So he sued James Fetzer, the author of “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.” He also founded the nonprofit HONR networks, which works to counter internet hoaxes. He and other Sandy Hook parents have sued Infowars host Alex Jones, who also has capitalized on the school shooting tragedy. His publisher has had a change of heart and pulled the Sandy Hook books out of distribution.
Pozner was represented by Jacob Zimmerman and his wife, Genevieve Zimmerman. They did not earn a fee for the case and paid the costs themselves, with the assistance of Genevieve’s firm, Meshbesher & Spence. The Madison law firm of Quarles & Brady provided office space and assistance in the courtroom.
Fetzer is a professor emeritus from the University of Minnesota Duluth who lives in Oregon, Wisconsin. He has propagated conspiracy theories about the assassination of John Kennedy and the airplane crash death of Paul Wellstone. He denies that the Holocaust happened and says that the 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school was actually a “political operation” pulled off to benefit the Democratic Party.
Pozner wasn’t alone in his security concerns. Fetzer’s followers also targeted the court, leading the judge on his own motion to keep the identities of the jurors and their addresses confidential.
“This [anxiety] isn’t speculative. There could be someone with a gun outside the courtroom that had decided that Leonard Pozner is a crisis actor being paid by George Solos. There are people who post videos with instructions on how to find his apartment,” said Jacob Zimmerman.
Not litigating the killings
Pozner wanted Fetzer to experience consequences for his actions post-Sandy Hook but didn’t want a trial on whether or not the tragedy was actually a dark state conspiracy.
“It’s important to understand the client’s goal,” Genevieve Zimmerman said. “Our client did not want to provide a platform and litigate the issues about whether Sandy Hook happened.”
Pozner didn’t even want such a theory to be memorialized in court records, Jacob said. So the lawyers confined the lawsuit to four statements in the book, all of which alleged that Pozner released a false death certificate of Noah’s death. That’s a crime in Connecticut.
There could have been so much more, but that’s not what Pozner wanted. They had pled a claim for punitive damages but decided to drop it because Pozner didn’t want Fetzer’s state of mind and subjective belief in his theories to come into play. “We didn’t want a trial about whether Fetzer believed this,” Genevieve said.
Pozner did not have to show that Fetzer acted with actual malice, which the lawyers think would have been easy, because he dropped his claim that Pozner was a public figure.
The trial also was constricted in a good way for Pozner by Judge Frank Remington’s order granting summary judgment on the liability prong of the defamation claim. Although that frustrated Fetzer by denying him an opportunity to claim he was telling the truth, it limited the testimony to damages.
The crux of the damages claim was that Pozner has post-traumatic stress disorder that is exacerbated by a secondary injury, such as the trauma caused by harassment and vilification.
“We could see that with Mr. Pozner. He did get better and then these comments came out and he just went downhill again,” Jacob said.
The PTSD makes it more difficult to do everyday tasks and impacts cognition, Jacob said. It is now considered chronic and it’s unlikely he will make a full recovery. His expert went through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) which includes PTSD and ticked off Pozner’s symptoms, supporting the diagnosis.
The nature of PTSD is that it is hard to assign a dollar figure to it, so in her closing argument, Genevieve didn’t try. The jury came up with the $450,000.00 figure on its own, after Genevieve told them, “I wish I could provide you with a receipt.”
There is a difference between PTSD and grief, Jacob said. PTSD is a defined psychiatric illness in the DSM 5. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.”
That happened during Pozner’s trial. “Every now and then something happens and you get goosebumps,” Jacob said. He was sitting with his client in an office in Madison, and it was cold and gray outside. Jacob recalled that Pozner, who moved to Florida, said “I haven’t seen weather like this since I left Connecticut. It’s totally freaking me out. I have a visceral reaction to the color of the leaves on the trees, the feel of cold air.”
Jacob and Genevieve see the court as the place to stop the viral growth of false information on the web and mete out consequences for wrongdoing. “What we do as lawyers is, we prove things,” Genevieve said.
They tip their hats to the Meshbesher firm and Quarles & Brady. One of that firm’s associates cross-examined Fetzer. “We were associates and we remember how much it meant to get opportunities. For her to do a cross in front of a jury was a big deal,” Jacob said.
They also have heartfelt praise for their client. “We both remember vividly the day Sandy Hook happened,” said Jacob. “We have young kids about the same age [as the victims]. I cannot imagine the hardship of losing a child and then being harassed and attacked and vilified forever afterward by people who claim you’re in on it and you son was fake.
“I am amazed how brave my client is.”
Copyright © 2019 BridgeTower Media. All Rights Reserved.
[Author’s note: The above article is reprinted under the fair use doctrine to show how it omits all the real issues in the Pozner v Fetzer lawsuit which is very likely to be overturned on appeal. This article is followed by other commentary illustrating the obfuscation of the Barbara L. Jones article in the MINNESOTA LAWYER.].