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Defamation lawsuit winner now wants attorneys fees, too
Jury awarded $100,000 in damages over Red Hat novel
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Haywood Smith

The legal battle over “The Red Hat Club” isn’t quite over.

When a Hall County jury in November decided that author Haywood Smith’s 2004 novel defamed Vickie Stewart with a character that bore too many similarities to Stewart, she was a winner but also a loser.

The jury awarded Stewart $100,000 in damages but declined to award her attorneys fees, which likely far exceeded that sum in the 5-year-old court case.

Stewart’s lawyers have since asked Chief State Court Judge Charles Wynne to award her attorneys fees on the grounds that Smith’s attorneys purposely hid or destroyed evidence in the case.

They point to a July order by the judge finding that the defense engaged in “spoliation of evidence” during the evidence-sharing period known as discovery.

The defense failed to preserve a computer or halt a policy of publisher St. Martin’s Press of destroying documents after it was put on notice of a possible lawsuit, according to the motion.

Attorney Jeffrey Horst asked Wynne to award his client attorneys fees incurred “as a result of defendants’ aforementioned scorched-earth, abusive discovery tactics.”

In a response filed earlier this month in Hall County State Court, Smith’s attorneys say the jury already “expressly rejected” Stewart’s claim for attorneys fees, and she is now trying to get “a second bite at the apple.”

“...(Stewart) is attempting to reopen a case that is essentially closed,” attorneys for Smith and St. Martin’s Press wrote.

Smith’s lawyers argue that they never hid evidence leading up to the trial, and that no sanctions are warranted.

“(Stewart’s) case has been submitted to the jury and decided partially in her favor,” Smith’s attorneys wrote.

“She now seeks to begin what could be an unending barrage of attorneys’ fee motions.”

The unusual court case is one of the few to reach a jury on the issue of whether a work of fiction could defame a living person.

The jury decided Smith’s best seller, about a circle of friends in Buckhead, defamed Stewart because a character named Su-Su was obviously modeled after her but also portrayed in an unflattering light.

Wynne has not ruled on Stewart’s motion for sanctions and attorney fees.

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