A Florida woman was ordered to remove a series of social-media posts and videos alleged to be defamatory after a Pulaski County circuit judge called her mental health into question as she represented herself during a hearing on Tuesday.
Judge Chris Piazza said the material must be removed from the Internet at least until a jury has decided whether Sharon Ellis of Safety Harbor, Fla., and her brother have slandered Dr. Frank Peretti of Little Rock.
A forensic pathologist, Peretti sued the siblings in April, accusing them of defamation, false light invasion of privacy, outrage and interference with business expectancy over their reaction to his findings from an autopsy he performed last year on their mother.
The proceeding lasted over 90 minutes, ending after the judge said he had heard enough and ruled in favor of Peretti's request that the materials be removed. A trial has not been scheduled.
The pair, who are representing themselves, denied any wrongdoing. With Ellis acting as her own lawyer, she cross-examined Peretti for about an hour.
At one point, while Ellis was questioning the doctor about where he was when he talked to her on the phone on a certain date, the judge interrupted Ellis to tell her to move on to a different subject because "This is starting to get to be a ridiculous dialogue." He also admonished Ellis against interrupting the doctor before he could finish answering her questions.
Peretti's attorney, Dylan Potts, objected when Ellis started asking Peretti about how he selected toxicology tests, saying the line of questioning was irrelevant. His objection was sustained.
Ellis suddenly burst into tears twice during the hearing. The first time, the sobbing woman left the courtroom after telling the judge she needed time to compose herself. She apologized after a later onset of tears, telling the judge she was having a hard time maintaining her composure.
Before calling an end to the hearing, Piazza asked Ellis whether she was receiving any mental-health counseling. Ellis asked whether he was referring to post-traumatic stress, with the judge asking if her demeanor in court could be attributed to the condition. Piazza also questioned whether Ellis would be able to adequately defend herself at trial.
"It's really going to be difficult for you to try this," the judge said.
Ellis said she'd contacted numerous lawyers but they either declined to represent her or quoted her fees of more than $30,000, more than she and her brother can afford.
Ellis said she was willing to remove what she has posted that names Peretti but complained she was being forced to remove videos that did not mention him. She also questioned whether Piazza could enforce his order.
"You don't have jurisdiction over me," she said. "I came here [from Florida] because I'm an honest and truthful person. There's no defamation. Everything I saw was the truth and my opinion."
Peretti has been Arkansas' associate medical examiner for 27 years and he is one of the five medical examiners who work for the state Crime Laboratory performing official autopsies for law enforcement and other authorities.
But the April 2017 examination he conducted on 78-year-old Joan Losty Ellis of Monticello, the mother of the Ellis siblings, was part of his 25-year-old private practice, Forensic Autopsy & Consulting Services.
Testifying at Tuesday's hearing on his request for a preliminary injunction against the Ellises, Peretti told the judge that he determined that Joan Ellis died of natural causes at a Little Rock hospital. But after reporting his findings to Sharon Ellis, he was surprised to learn that she believed her mother was deliberately killed by the hospital staff.
Peretti testified that he screens private clients to ensure that his practice does not conflict with his official duties and that he would not have taken the Ellis case if he had known they were accusing someone of murder.
He told the judge that Ellis had made some claims in email correspondence that her mother had been killed but understood that to mean medical malpractice, not homicide.
"It does not say anything about murder," Peretti said about the emails during cross-examination by Ellis. The hearing was the first time Peretti and Ellis have met face to face.
Since Peretti informed the siblings of his findings, Sharon Ellis has mounted a social media campaign maligning him as helping cover up a homicide, Peretti told the judge.
A co-worker's wife even received a social-media message from Ellis maligning him that came to her because of her membership in a garden club, Peretti said.
Ellis also went to the Crime Lab and caused a scene even though she knew none of his private practice work is conducted, the doctor said.
He's had to answer questions about her assertions from the Little Rock police, Pulaski County law enforcement officials, Arkansas State Police investigators, Barry Hyde, the county judge, and representatives of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Peretti said.
He said he only sued after Ellis posted on social media that both he and Hutchinson were colluding to cover-up a homicide at a Little Rock hospital. He said he had mostly ignored Ellis' complaints, even after she went to the Crime Lab, attributing her actions to her grief over her mother's death.
Peretti told the judge he does not follow social media but that around the first of the year co-workers, colleagues and friend began to ask him about Ellis' accusations.
Both Ellis and her brother, James Ellis, 54, of Monticello, asked that James Ellis be dismissed from the lawsuit. Sharon Ellis said her brother was not involved in any of her social media activity.
James Ellis denied making any public disparaging statements about Peretti and that the only criticisms he had leveled against the pathologist were in an email that was made public in a small-claims lawsuit he had filed to get back the $2,500 the siblings paid Peretti for the postmortem examination. The judge declined to dismiss him and the claims in his lawsuit have been merged into the Peretti suit.
Metro on 09/12/2018
Print Headline: Woman told to take down online jabs at Little Rock doctor