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Defamation of character falls into two categories: libel and slander. Libel is a written defamation, while slander involves speech. If you are a victim of defamation, you will need the assistance of an experienced attorney to prevail in court, and you will have to prove harm to you or your reputation.

Recognized for its defamation cases, the Baltimore-Washington law firm of Freeman Rauch, LLC, has carved a niche in the practice area. The volume of defamation referrals our firm receives is a mark of the respect we have gained for our defense of clients who have been subject to libel and slander.

Under Maryland law, a defamatory statement is one that “tends to expose a person to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule, thereby discouraging others in the community from having a good opinion of, or from associating or dealing with, that person.” Batson v. Shiflett, 325 Md. 684, 722-23 (1992).

The question often arises whether elected county or municipal legislators can be sued for their statements to the press or other media sources. As with most legal issues, the answer is “it depends.” Maryland law has long precluded civil or criminal actions against “a city or town councilman, county commissioner, county councilman, or similar official by whatever name known, for words spoken at a meeting of the council or board of commissioners or at a meeting of a committee or subcommittee thereof.”

In determining fault in a matter of defamation, different standards apply, depending on who you are. Public officials or public figures, such as politicians, entertainers, celebrities or other well-known individuals, must prove they were defamed with “actual malice.” They must demonstrate that the person defaming them knew the statement made was false or recklessly disregarded, whether or not it was false.

Persons who are not public figures only have to prove that the person defaming them was negligent, failing to act with due care considering the circumstances.

If someone makes slanderous remarks about you that affect your profession, trade or business, implies you committed a crime or leads to false conclusions concerning disease, proving actual harm to your reputation is not required; however, in order to collect for slanderous behavior, you will have to prove you were damaged.

When media, such as television, radio, the Web, or competitors or others in a public forum, attack your business or corporation, retaining a lawyer may be prudent. When possible defamation occurs, it is vital to quickly assess damage, determine whether or not to vindicate your reputation, and choose a course of action. You or your company may resolve the issue through an apology, a retraction, or writing rebuttal articles or letters to the editor of your local or national newspapers.