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SPCA May Be Liable for Sullying Lawyer’s Name

(CN) - A New York lawyer who says he was accused of impersonating a district attorney to save a dog may have a libel case, a state appeals court ruled.

Russell Schindler had been representing a client whose Rottweiler had been confiscated during an animal cruelty investigation.

Hector Mejias Jr., an employee with the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, allegedly said in a sworn deposition that Schindler misrepresented himself to gain the release of the dog.

According to Mejias' deposition, Schindler came to the SPCA after hours and stated, "I am Don Williams, the district attorney."

Schindler sued Mejias and the SPCA for defamation, and the case went before the Appellate Division's Albany-based Third Judicial Department after the trial court refused to dismiss.

Mejias and the SPCA argued that the deposition does not constitute libel per se, and that Schindler has also failed to claim special damages.

The appellate justices disagreed, however, citing Schindler's entitlement to an exception in the statute because the accusation impugned his professional ethics.

"Such an impersonation would no doubt demonstrate a total disregard for plaintiff's professional ethical obligations," Justice Robert Rose wrote for a five-member panel.

"Based on the forgoing, we agree with [the lower] court that Mejias' statement, as published in the supporting deposition, constitutes libel per se."

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