High-profile attorney Lisa Bloom said she was “surprised” and “very disturbed” to hear Bill O’Reilly had filed a $5 million lawsuit over a Facebook post written by the ex-boyfriend of a woman who accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment.
The former Fox News star announced in October that he plans to sue Michael Panter for defamation. Panter, a former New Jersey assemblyman, published a lengthy Facebook post that described O’Reilly sexually harassing his then-girlfriend and probing her for information about another accuser.
Bloom, who has built a career advocating for women’s rights and defending victims of sexual harassment, has agreed to represent Panter.
“[It’s] very interesting that somebody who purports to be a journalist ― Bill O’Reilly ― would want to suppress speech,” Bloom told HuffPost. “This is not right. This is not acceptable.”
Bloom is no stranger to legal battles with O’Reilly. In April, she represented three women who had publicly accused him of sexual harassment. Days later, amid fierce backlash over the mounting allegations against him, Fox News announced it was cutting ties with O’Reilly.
O’Reilly, who has reached multimillion-dollar settlements with several of his accusers, has denied all of the allegations and has claimed he’s the victim of a “witch hunt.”
Now, he’s asking for no less than $5 million in damages for “the public hatred, ridicule, disgrace, and permanent harm to his professional and personal reputations as a result” of Panter’s Facebook post. The post detailed several alleged instances in which O’Reilly demonstrated inappropriate behavior, including masturbating during phone calls with Panter’s then-girlfriend without her consent.
“I can’t imagine [O’Reilly] thinks he’s going to win this case,” said Bloom, noting that O’Reilly would not only have to prove Panter intentionally lied about him, but would also have to provide evidence that the post hurt him financially.
“At the time of the post, O’Reilly had already lost his job at Fox News,” she said. “Nothing has happened to him as a result of [Panter’s] Facebook post. ... I just don’t think it’s likely that he can prove his case.”
O’Reilly’s legal team filed the initial “notice of summons” last month, but hasn’t yet taken any further steps to move the case forward, Bloom said. She added that O’Reilly never reached out to Panter before filing a lawsuit against him and that he still hadn’t specified what he believes to be defamatory in Panter’s post.
I was raised to believe that the truth is important and that our justice system is not for the rich and powerful to suppress the truth. Michael Panter
Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for O’Reilly, told HuffPost on Monday that he didn’t have “any developments to report” regarding the lawsuit.
Bloom said lawsuits like the one O’Reilly has filed against Panter can deter some women from speaking out against their harassers or abusers, despite the growing wave of sexual misconduct allegations against entertainers, media personalities and politicians.
“Their number one fear is that they’re going to get sued for defamation by these wealthy, powerful guys,” Bloom said of potential accusers. “This is the club that a bully can wield.”
Panter has not publicly identified the ex-girlfriend he described in the post and acknowledged Monday that he hadn’t asked her permission before writing it. Still, he said he felt that he had made the right choice in telling the story.
“I was raised to believe that the truth is important and that our justice system is not for the rich and powerful to suppress the truth,” Panter said. “I think that we’re in pivotal moment in time where we can continue to speak up and continue to shed light on these issues or folks can be intimidated back into silence. ... This is about a bigger principle than just me.”
Read Panter’s original Facebook post about O’Reilly below.