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Courtney Love defends herself in the first 'Twibel' trial

Image: Courtney Love
Courtney Love in New York in September.Andy Kropa / AP file

Courtney Love’s fascinating journey on Twitter — which has included her daughter's recommending that she be “banned” from the social micro-blogging site — has landed her in a Los Angeles courtroom, where she is defending herself in the first libel trial in the age of social media in the United States.

Dressed elegantly in a black tweed belted dress and blue cardigan, and with her hair tied up in a braid, Love took the stand on Wednesday to explain the 2010 tweet that put her in this 140-character predicament. Although other “Twibel” cases have been filed elsewhere, the case is the first to go to trial. (Three years ago, Love herself paid $430,000 to settle a similar dispute with a fashion designer who sued over insulting tweets that Love made over a $4,000 bill).

San Diego lawyer Rhonda Holmes, whom Love hired in 2008, sued the singer in Los Angeles Superior Court for remarks she tweeted in which Love claimed the lawyer had been “bought off.” Love had hired Holmes to represent her in a fraud case against those managing her late husband Kurt Cobain’s estate, which she testified consumed her and kept her from being a good mother.

In the tweet in question, Love wrote: "@noozjunkie I was [expletive] devastated when Rhonda J Holmes Esq of san diego was bought off @fairnewsspears perhaps you can get a quote." Mellow, and at times appearing confused by questions, Love testified that the tweet was prompted by her feeling that Holmes "had abandoned us, vanished, disappeared.... At one point, I thought she was dead."

Love testified that the tweet was a direct response to a question posed by a follower and she had intended it to be a private direct message. Realizing her error, she said that she deleted it soon after it posted. Forensic analyst Stan Lee testified on Wednesday he and his team spent nearly 300 hours scouring the Internet for Love's original tweet, mentions, and retweets and couldn't find any. Lee said that indicated to him that Love deleted the tweet within an hour of posting it.

Love said she was trying to urge two bloggers in a late-night Twitter conversation to reach out to Holmes, whom she hadn't spoken to in months. Blogger Carmela Kelly, one of the recipients of the now-infamous tweet, testified earlier in the trial that she didn’t think a question prompted Love's bribery accusation. 

Holmes testified earlier in the trial that she "never disappeared" but that she was fired. Love maintained in her testimony that neither she nor anyone on her staff ever fired Holmes. Holmes also testified that she's never taken a bribe.

Under cross-examination, attorney Barry Langberg got Love to acknowledge that it's impossible to direct-message two people simultaneously. Asked why she felt it necessary to include Holmes' entire name and location in the tweet, Love replied: "I wanted to know what happened to Rhonda. So that’s why I gave her name specifically. I’m sort of a computer retard. Now I know how to direct-message perfectly, but then I didn’t. I thought I was making a private message."

Love said at one point she feared Holmes could be dead because of suspicious activities regarding her fraud case. The notion that Holmes was "bought off," she said, "swirled around mysteriously." But she said working with Holmes made her feel "elated." Love also referred to her former lawyer as a "savior" and a "white knight." She also said she "would have her come back in a second."

"She was going to tear them up and spit them out," Love said of Holmes' representation of her. "She was going to go to the attorney general.... She was very competent and zealous and she really believed in me. It was awesome."

Holmes also is claiming in the lawsuit that critical statements Love made in a follow-up interview for now-defunct harmed the lawyer's reputation, though she was not mentioned by name in the article.

While the jury's decision will impact only a specific jurisdiction, it could be influential in future Twibel cases. The case is expected to go to the jury Thursday or Friday. The 14-member jury will have to decide whether the statement in the tweet is true, whether Love intended to publish her comments publicly, and whether Love’s followers reasonably understood the remarks to be about Holmes. Because Holmes is a limited-purpose public figure, the lawyer also has to prove that Love acted with malice. 

"I wanted [Kelly] to get a quote," Love said, further explaining the motive behind the tweet. "I wanted her to find out what happened. The big news people weren’t going to do it."