Montreal Daily Star, 18 January 1921
Reputations too often destroyed, claims counsel
Keen interest in closing stages of Germaine Robert suit for libel
Time to stop it
“What is known as society is the cleaning house for scandal,” says lawyer
Addressing himself to the English-speaking members of the jury empanelled to pass upion the action taken by Miss Germaine Robert against Mrs Sarsfield LE Cuddy, for $20,000 for alleging defamatory libel, Thibaudeau Rinfret, KS, this morning unmercifully flogged for nearly an hour the habit of high society people to “gather at small dinners and afternoon receptions and tear into shreds the reputations of others.”
“The verdict you are about to render,” said Mr Rinfred, “should be an unqualified condemnation of what happened in the present case and a lesson for the future of those, who while dallying among the fashionable and wealthy people, take pleasure, indeed find rapture, in destroying others reputations, especially those of young women.”
Mr Rinfred only began his address to the jury after Mr Justice Lane, who presides at the hearing and the other counsel had discussed for over an hour on the questions which are to be put to the jury. The counsel for both parties had agreed upon a series of questions which the jury should be requested to answer, but when a copy of these questions had been given him, His Lordship objected and said he was rather surprised that the questions as agreed had not been submitted to him previously.
“As they stand,” said His Lordship. “they are not legally drafted and will not allow me to make my charge to the jury in a legal manner. You gentlemen,” said His Lordship to the lawyers, “had better get busy and re-arrange matters so that I may see my way clear to abide by the law.”
Address to the Jury
For an hour afterwards, changes after changes were made to the questions which the jury was to answer, and it was after 11 o’clock when the Hon JL Peron, KC, who appears with Mr Rinfret as counsel for the plaintiff exclaimed: “At last, we have joined issue on no issue.”
While the questions as re-arranged and modified were being transcribed by a stenographer, Mr Rinfret started his address to the jury. He spoke in English, and was to be followed by Mr Perron in French.
At the outset, Mr Rinfret claimed that the case inasfar as damages t be allowed were concerned, was not of any special nature. Damage had been caused to plaintiff, he claimed, and defendant must pay as in other damage cases; that was the law, he said, and he was sure the presiding judge would uphold him on this point.
History of the case
Taking up the history of the case, Mr Rinfret said that the standing of the parties had been well established in the course of the hearing yesterday. While the plaintiff was poor now, owing to unfortunate speculations of her late father prior to his death, she had been educated in one of the best institutions of learning in the Province; she was an accomplished musician and a fluent conversationalist in both languages. Her education and refinement had allowed her to keep her place in the wealthy circly among which she had been brought up.
In the fall of 1919, he said, plaintiff had found out with dismay and surprise that she was being left alone; her former surroundings and friends among which and whom she had moved seemed to have deserted her. She did not know the cause, but being a brave little woman she decided to inquire what was wrong. After weeks and months of patient inquiry, she discovered that she was the victim of calumny, and it was thus that one morning she was apprised at a luncheon given at the University Club in the latter part of September 1919, defendant had told some of the ladies present at the function stories that alienated the plaintiff’s friends from her.
Having found what blighted her life, plaintiff sought reparation, said Mr Rinfret, and “we know now how gossiping started by the defendant had made its way through what we are pleased to call society but which is in reality the scandal clearing house of all large cities.”
Mr Rinfred then explained how the present proceedings against the defendant were started. Defendant now, he said, acknowledges that she expressed the words attributed to her at the function in question. She did not do it at the time the action was taken, however, said Mr Rinfret: “if she had perhaps the present unpleasant affair would not be before a jury today.
“At all events, he continued, defendant did not change her expressions in her plea. Plaintiff had no father and no brother near her, and through sheer grit and courage she had succeeded in securing a position in the Government’s employment, to maintain herself and her mother and to retain, apparently at least, her position in society. She did what she thought was best to vindicate her honor, and asked the court of her country to come to her rescue and help her find who was guilty and who should make whatever reparation, should condone the harm done to her and which would show to her people that she was still worthy of their love and friendship.
Mr Rinfret here dwelt on the nature of the alleged libel against the plaintiff; emphasizing on the fact that when gossiping starts in society no one knows where it will stop. The statement made by the defendant, he said has cause the plaintiff to become an outcast from society, and had humbled to shame a good, young and honest woman. And for all this, plaintiff was willing to say: “Well, it is true I said what you accuse me of, but I said it in a moment of thoughtlessness and I regret it. I regret it so much that I will give you $200: I will pay the costs of action for this amount and you will amply indemnified for what I said against you.”
“Can anything be more shameless, more heartless than this?” asked Mr Rinfret. “Defendant says now that her statement was due to thoughtlessness. Let us hope so for the defendant’s sake, because if her statement, such as it was, injurious and libelous as it was, had been actuated by other motives, her presence would not be sought before the civil courts; the criminal courts would require her.”
Did not expect damages
The learned counsel said that it made no difference if the defendant made her statement through thoughtlessness inasfar as damages are concerned.
“The employer pays damages to his employee who meets with an accident, the law compels him to do so, even without trial. That employer is not responsible morally for the accident; it does not happen in most cases through his thoughtlessness, but he has to pay just the same.”
And why, asked Mr Rinfret, should defendant now be allowed to come to plaintiff, whom she had defamed in a most shameful way, and say to her: “Here is two hundred dollars. Let us be through with it all?”
Mr Rinfret said that there had been a tendancy of late among the big people to forego all considerations in the manner in which they conduct their gossiping. It is one of the plights of the present time, he said, that rich and prominent people may destroy one’s reputation and get away with it, just because they are “big people.” It is time, he said, to put a stop to this kind of affairs, and it is also time that “high class” people should be remined that they are like the rest and particularly like the poor, “must obey the laws of God and of charity.”
Shortly before adjournment for lunch, JL Peron KC started to address the jury in French.