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Blogger, Dr. Darm settle landmark Twitter lawsuit

Lake Oswego resident Dr. Jerry Darm and Portland blogger Tiffany Craig have reached a settlement in Darm's $1 million lawsuit, the state's first Twitter-based defamation case.

They came to an agreement out of court on Friday, attorneys said.

Darm's attorney, Thomas McDermott, declined to discuss the settlement's terms, saying they're confidential.

Craig's attorney, Linda Williams, also declined to discuss specifics, 'but I can say that the blog and the tweet remain up,' she said by email.

In a lawsuit filed July 11, Darm sought $1 million for damage to his reputation allegedly caused by 'false, defamatory and malicious' statements Craig made on her Twitter profile, @tcraighenry, and on her blog, at www.criminallyvulgar.com. The 31-year-old IT worker writes about everything from current events, computer technology and gaming to the treatment of women in comics and her large collection of shoes.

After seeing a TV commercial for Darm's business, Aesthetic Medicine, in Tigard, Craig said she became curious about how consumers research medical professionals without relying on ads. She looked for information on Darm and later posted on Twitter that 'a little bit of research into @drdarm revealed a pretty nasty complaint filed against him for attempting to trade treatment for sex in 2001.'

Craig was referring to a decade-old incident investigated by the Oregon Medical Board, which in 2001 reprimanded Darm for 'an inappropriate boundary violation' after a woman complained he offered to accept intimate physical contact as payment for after-hours treatment of spider veins.

Darm also faced discipline in California and in Washington based on the situation in Oregon, where the state medical board required him to complete educational courses about doctor-patient boundaries and risk management and prohibited him from treating adult women without a chaperone present. Those restrictions were removed from Darm's license in 2009.

In a formal statement issued Wednesday, his attorney wrote 'the matter has been resolved for many years.'

'Ten years ago my client, Dr. Jerrold Darm, reported to the Medical Board that he gave a hug and kiss to a patient after a procedure,' McDermott wrote. 'There was no sex involved and none was reported by the patient or the Medical Board. He received a reprimand, one of the lowest forms of discipline. He then successfully complied with all the stringent requirements mandated by the Board and typical for boundary violations while continuing to practice. At the time of the incident my client held a California medical license. That license was surrendered because he did not work or live in California.'

Had Darm and Craig not reached an agreement, their case would have continued in court next week. Instead, a judge will soon weigh in on a notice of dismissal McDermott said he filed on Wednesday.

Even so, the judge's ruling after the case's first day in court could have a lasting impact on how online remarks are treated in Oregon courtrooms.

Williams was seeking to have the case dismissed under Oregon's anti-SLAPP law, which aims to prevent any 'strategic lawsuit against public participation' on the grounds of free speech. Under this law, a defendant can make a special motion to strike a defamation claim when it arises from statements made in specific circumstances.

On Sept. 30, Multnomah County Judge Jerome LaBarre concluded Craig was not only speaking about a matter of public interest but within a public forum when she tweeted about Darm's disciplinary record. That could make it easier for lawyers to defend Oregon bloggers and tweeters facing libel charges in the future.

Looking back on the past few months, Craig said she sees a need for federal anti-SLAPP legislation.

'Things like Twitter have a global impact and should be defined on a broader scale,' she said. 'The idal would be for it to be acknowledged nationwide as a public forum without having to define it case by case.'