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Blog Helps Expose International Hoax

In a post here last September, Blog Book Chronicles $33M Verdict, I told you about Jane Daniel, the Gloucester, Mass., woman who launched a blog, BESTSELLER!,  to tell the story in serial form of the lawsuit that resulted in a $33 million verdict against her and her small publishing company Mt. Ivy Press. (Although Gloucester adjoins my town, I have never met Daniel.) The 2001 verdict was awarded to Misha Defonseca and her ghostwriter Vera Lee as the result of disputes over copyright and promotion of Defonseca's memoir, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, about surviving the Holocaust on her own as a young girl, in part through her "adoption" by a pack of wolves. The book became a bestseller in Europe and is the basis for a new French movie, Survivre avec les Loups (Surviving With the Wolves).

In my September post, I wrote that Daniel's blog provided "an intriguing perspective on the litigation system as nonlawyers see it." She described that system as a crap-shoot that left her in shock and pain. While her ongoing story would most certainly reach an end, she wrote, she did not then know what it would be. As it turns out, her book-via-blog may have helped write its own ending. In what is perhaps poetic justice if not legal justice, Daniel's blogging about the case helped expose hidden facts and generate renewed publicity that resulted yesterday in Defonseca's admission that her story was a hoax. As David Mehegan writes today in The Boston Globe:

Yesterday's confession follows a week of intense publicity in French and Belgian media, prompted by disclosure of documents unearthed by Waltham-based genealogical researcher Sharon Sergeant showing that Monique De Wael (Defonseca's real maiden name) was baptized in a Brussels Catholic church in September 1937 and that she was enrolled in a Brussels primary school in 1943-44. The researcher also discovered that Defonseca's parents, Robert and Josephine De Wael, were members of the Belgian resistance and were arrested and executed by the Nazis.

Sergeant, the genealogical researcher, became interested in the case through Daniel's blog and provided her discoveries to Daniel to post there, drawing out even more information. Kathleen Valentine, another Gloucester blogger and friend of Daniel, posts a description of Sergeant's detective work and notes that part of what makes the story so interesting "is the incredible role the internet and blogging has played in the story."

While revelation of the hoax has no direct bearing on the verdict, which the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed in 2005, Daniel tells the Globe that she hopes it provides her a basis to challenge the original lawsuit on the grounds that Defonseca's contract with Mt. Ivy Press had warranted the truth of her story. For lawyers, the entire tale offers another chapter in a different developing story -- that of the interplay between blogging and the legal system.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 29, 2008 at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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