A disgraced Georgia dentist has filed a lawsuit against an anonymous YouTube user who re-posted a years-old news story about his crimes, claiming the user defamed his character by posting the story.
As Ars Technica reports, in 2009, dentist Gordon Trent Austin was indicted by a Georgia grand jury of multiple counts of assault and battery, including against children, as well as charges of Medicaid fraud. In the indictment, at least three witnesses — former dental assistants — all testified that Austin would improperly sedate patients with insufficient anesthesia. If they complained of pain, or tried to resist, he would hit them in the face with a “heavy metal object” and scream at them to “stop that!” and “shut up!”
Austin took a plea deal that allowed him to plead guilty to the Medicaid fraud charges in exchange for the assault and battery charges, and charges of cruelty to children, being dropped. He was placed on probation for five years, forbidden from practicing dentistry, and paid $15,000 in fines. He also lost his license and was “pushed out” of the Naval Reserves, where he had been a reservist, lawyer Paul Alan Levy writes in Consumer Law & Policy Blog.
At the time of the indictment, Atlanta Fox affiliate WAGA aired a report on Dr. Austin’s indictment. In the video, which you can see below, a former patient of the dentist, identified as Laura Crowder, described the horror she endured at Gordon’s practice.
On March 1, 2009, a YouTube user, identified as “gordonaustinisacoward,” posted the video of WAGA’s report, as well as a transcript of portions of the report. As of this writing, the video has had only 5,000 or so views.
Regardless, somehow the video came to the Georgia dentist’s attention, and now he’s suing the anonymous user, identified in court documents as “John Doe,” claiming the video is “inflammatory” and “interferes with [Gordon’s] business.” He also subpoenaed Google (owners of YouTube), demanding they release the name of John Doe.
John Doe’s attorney, Paul Levy, has moved to have the suit dismissed for several reasons. First, he says, the dentist has not shown any evidence that he was defamed by the video. Second, he says, the statute of limitations has expired.
Levy also brings up another interesting take on the case: why the dentist is suddenly so interested in a seven-year-old video.
“It is not at all clear why Austin suddenly revived his interest in the adverse story; a [Georgia] lawyer to whom I spoke speculated that Austin might have retained that same firm to help him get his license back. Perhaps the suit might have been intended to exercise the ‘right to be forgotten’ by pushing a compelling account of the previous charges against him out of the public eye. Apparently, Austin and his lawyers have no understanding of the Streisand effect.”
The Streisand Effect, for those not familiar, happens when someone tries to censor information, and the attempt at censoring the information brings even more attention to the information being censored. In other words, by making a fuss legally about the video, Dr. Austin is only succeeding in bringing more attention to the video he doesn’t like.
For John Doe’s attorney, Paul Levy, the dentist’s actions amount to little more than bullying. He’s also surprised that any lawyer worth his salt would take such a flimsy case.
“It is a shame that Austin’s lawyer was neither able to persuade his client to drop the subpoena, nor willing to withdraw his own participation in this travesty. At this point, however, it seems likely that the lawyer will have to join his client in paying a financial price for that bullying.”
A judge is set to hear arguments in the case on February 23.
Do you think Dr. Austin is right to sue an anonymous YouTube user for posting a seven-year-old, unflattering video? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
[Image via Shutterstock/Valeriy Velikov]