The Vancouver Sun defamed the reputation of multimillionaire self-help guru Tony Robbins in a front-page article suggesting Mr. Robbins had "stolen the wife" of a local businessman, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has concluded.
Despite his finding, however, Mr. Justice Paul Williamson awarded only a modest $20,000 in damages against the newspaper, in large part because Mr. Robbins chose not to testify at his own libel trial.
That left the judge "in the dark" about how much Mr. Robbins's reputation had actually suffered because of the Sun article, he said.
But Judge Williamson did not spare the newspaper from the lash of his pen. In one of the most anticipated verdicts in some time, released late yesterday, he found that the Sun "deliberately used this celebrity gossip [about Mr. Robbins]to increase circulation or sales."
In fact, the judge said, Mr. Robbins was not a hypocrite, as inferred by the Sun, for dating the then-wife of John Lynch while providing marital advice in many of his legendary motivational seminars and tapes.
Calls to the Sun last night for comment were not returned.
Judge Williamson noted that Sun reporter Jeff Lee omitted relevant information from his article: that the Lynches' marriage was already seriously on the rocks by the time Mr. Robbins met Bonnie Lynch.
Ms. Lynch subsequently changed her name to Sage and married the tall, toothy motivator.
"I find that to call a person a hypocrite is defamatory," Judge Williamson ruled.
He also found there was no evidence to back the story's assertion that Mr. Robbins's first wife had sought a restraining order "to prevent him from using [company]funds to buy lavish gifts for his new girlfriend including breast implants."
"These allegations are serious," he wrote. "While not such that they connote evil or fiendish conduct, I find they do tend to harm [Mr. Robbins's]reputation, or lower him in the estimation of the community."
Judge Williamson went on to criticize Mr. Lee, the reporter, for not being more on his guard concerning one of the sources of his story, a self-proclaimed "legal adviser" named Gary Sir John Carlsen III.
Mr. Carlsen hinted to Mr. Lee that there was a financial motive to Mr. Lynch's desire to publicize the story.
"It should have been obvious to Lee that Carlsen was unreliable and his motive suspect," Judge Williamson said.
Mr. Carlsen eventually apologized to Mr. Robbins, admitting that much of the information he provided was incorrect.
Judge Williamson found him guilty of libel as well, ordering Mr. Carlsen to pay $500 in damages.
The lawyer for Mr. Robbins, Roger McConchie, said his client is pleased by the court judgment.
"This case was never about money. [Mr. Robbins]brought this action to clear his name and the name of his family."