Paula Deen Harassment Suit Whets Gossip Palate

     (CN) – In a sexual harassment suit against Paula Deen and her brother, a magistrate judge unsealed inappropriate Tweets about the case posted by plaintiff counsel.
     Lisa Jackson used to be manager at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House in Savannah, Ga., owned by TV chef Paula Deen and Deen’s brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers.
     Jackson sued the celebrity chef in 2012, claiming that Hiers sexually harassed her for five years.
     In addition to sexually harassing his female staff, Hiers frequently used the word “nigger” at work, referred to President Obama as a nigger, watched pornography on work computers and blamed the kitchen staff, spent a month in rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction, and stole $30,000 from Deen, a theft that Jackson reported to the restaurant’s accountant, according to the complaint.
     “The conduct described herein is no mere offensive utterance; the conduct was threatening, even physically, and universally humiliating,” Jackson claimed. “The staff of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House … lived in fear of Bubba Hiers.”
     Earlier this year, the defendants moved to disqualify Jackson’s attorney, Matthew Billips, based on comments he posted on Twitter about the case. Documents related to this motion were sealed, and after denying the motion, U.S. Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith asked the parties to show why the order and other documents should not be unsealed.
     Hiers asked for all documents to be released to the public, but Jackson said Billip’s Twitter comments might prejudice a jury.
     In his Tweets, Billips said that he looked forward to “doing” and “undressing” Deen during discovery, and that prosecuting her was a “real hoot.”
     Given the extensive media coverage of this case, however, “even a casual Internet search immediately reveals that the jury-taint horse has already left the barn,” Jackson wrote.
     He continued: “As the court itself found on its own ‘Paula Deen Video,’ anyone can watch her engaging in mock oral sex with an éclair and uttering a crude comment involving female genitalia. For that matter, the April 3, 2013 Order illuminates facts about plaintiff which she may find embarrassing. Unsealing Billips’ case-related tweets and the parties’ sanctions motions, then, at worst will add an indistinguishable squirt of black ink into already blackened, jury-prejudice waters.” (Italics in original.)
     Deen and Hiers also had the court consider other Tweets by Billips that were not case related, “aimed at simply embarrassing Billips under the pretense of enforcing an ethics rule in a motion denied by this court,” the judge said.
     These tweets revealed that Billips frequently uses “obscene, bawdy, and racially-charged language when conversing with his Twitter followers,” according to the judgment.
     To prevent the court from becoming “a vehicle for improper purposes,” all Tweets unrelated to this case will remain sealed, Smith ruled.
     “The court referenced these Tweets and found that they constituted improper comment about the merits of pending litigation – essentially stating as fact what his client was alleging,” he wrote (emphases in original). “While the court noted that the ethics code presumes that such demeaning comments tend to prejudice the proceedings, it determined that the disqualification of counsel was not an appropriate sanction under the circumstances of this case.”
     Smith also declined to sanction Deen and Hiers for releasing a letter Jackson sent to one of Deen’s lawyers, threatening to take the case to the media if Deen did not pay her $1.25 million.

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