jamie goode's wine blog: Broadbent's 'Billionaire's Vinegar' libel settled out of court

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Broadbent's 'Billionaire's Vinegar' libel settled out of court

News just in: Michael Broadbent's libel action against Random House, publishers of Benjamin Wallace's 'Billionaire's Vinegar', has been settled out of court. Random House issued a public apology to Broadbent, and paid 'undisclosed damages' [I'd really like to know how much!]

Wallace's book, examining the authenticity of the famous 'Thomas Jefferson' wines, is an excellent read, but unfortunately Broadbent did come across very badly in it.

From what I gather, it is just the UK distribution of the book that is affected. Random House has agreed not to distribute the book in the UK, but it is still available in unchanged form in the USA. Readers in the UK can, of course, still obtain the book via US mail order retailers such as amazon.com.

The press release reads:

The libel action centred on the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar, the subject of which was the provenance of a number of bottles of wine said to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. The book made allegations which suggested that Mr Broadbent had behaved in an unprofessional manner in the way in which he had auctioned some of these bottles and that his relationship and dealings with Hardy Rodenstock, who discovered the original collection, was suspected of being improper.

In a statement read out in open court today, Random House apologised unreservedly for making the allegations and accepted that they were untrue. It has given an undertaking not to repeat the allegations and paid Mr Broadbent undisclosed damages.

Commenting on the settlement Sarah Webb, head of Russell Jones & Walker’s Defamation department, who acted for Mr Broadbent said:

“The Billionaire’s Vinegar made highly damaging claims about my client that seriously compromised both his professional and personal reputation. We are delighted that Random House has today accepted that these allegations are totally without foundation and avoided the need to proceed to a full trial. My client is relieved that the good name he has built up over many years as one of the country’s leading wine experts has been fully restored.”



At 10:36 AM, Blogger elloinos said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Markus Stolz said...

Wow, what a stunning victory for Michael Broadbent. I am very happy that the reputation of this great gentleman has been restored. A man who has done so much in his life for wines certainly deserves to remembered - and for the younger generation known - for his achievements.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Henry said...

I am a little surprised at this judgment as I have just finished the book this weekend.

I thought the book immensely entertaining and simply asked a lot of questions without hypothesising as to exactly what happened.

I certainly didn't take away from the book any kind of negative impression of Michael Broadbent at all.

It is a very interesting story and I would certainly recommend it.

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Markus Stolz said...

Henry, I have also read the book and agree that is a very entertaining read. But the reputation of Michael Broadbent has suffered as a result of this. The book certainly did question the engagement of Broadbent in a way that left a lot of room for speculation.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Glen said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Markus Stolz said...

Glen,there is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreement. On the contrary, I appreciate your and anyone elses' thoughts on the subject. It is however - as far as I know - a fact, that up to date no court has ruled against Rodenstock or Broadbent. It is also now a fact that the publisher has accepted that the allegations made were untrue. There are - maybe rightly so - many rumours about a scam. But so far the facts do not support these rumours.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger The Wine Mule said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Glen said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger wine said...

This is harder for Americans to understand I'm told because the standards for libel are much higher here in the USA than in the UK. After this and the Rudy K. episode the veil is off the auction market, and I think at best Broadbent still comes off looking like he was either duped or caught up in the aura of these stratospheric wines. It really is good for the auction biz that someone like Bill Koch is out there with bottomless pockets and is willing to fight these guys.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Bartholomew Broadbent said...

Glen doesn't know the specifics of the case and clearly his views are a reflection of nothing more than reading the book. My father won the case and they will not hesitate to win damages from further defamatory remarks made by others who continue to ignore the ruling. Glen would be better off accepting the court's decision and the Publisher's apology. He has no idea about the true facts and his statements show incredible ignorance. However, his views are precisely the reason that this case was won. Glen is actually setting himself up to be sued too, if he continues to repeat such defamatory views which have no basis on truth. As Jamie's Blog is published in the UK, it and its commentators fall under the same defamation and libel jurisdiction.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Glen said...

I don't understand the legal system in the UK and fear the threat of legal action against me. I apologize and withdraw my comments.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Daniel Posner said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

I apologize to Daniel Posner and The Wine Mule for deleting their comments. But this site is published in the UK, and I have to be very careful, as publisher, to make sure I don't end up involved in any litigation. While I don't find your comments problematic, there's an outside chance that someone might. I'm really sorry about this and I appreciate you taking the time to leave comments.

Glen, thank you for removing your comments. It's appreciated.

Bartholemew, thank you for your participation here.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Bartholomew Broadbent said...

Thank you, Glen.

At 4:55 PM, OpenID ithacork said...

I'm sure suing Jamie Goode for comments by *other people* on his internet blog will do wonders for Mr Broadbent's reputation. Give me a break.

If the book implies anything it is that Broadbent is perfectly human, and subject to the same impulses and desires and psychology as the rest of us. I actually rather liked the way he was portrayed.

PS Wow, Jamie, lots of controversy on the blog lately, eh?

At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Dave T said...

It's not a question of giving someone a break.

The law is very clear: if you repeat libellous allegations, even if you're just copying them word for word from another publication, then you, and the editor or website owner is deemed to have committed a libel, too.

And it's amazing how few people have any kind of knowledge of the libel laws.

At 6:05 PM, OpenID ithacork said...


I never said it *wasn't* libel, just that it might not be in Mr Broadbent's best interest to sue everyone that says bad things about him on the internet.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Bartholomew Broadbent said...

Is it not true that you had agreed to remove at least one [or more] passage from the book in re-prints in the US? Specifically, you told me that you would remove a quote from Koch's lawyer?

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Benjamin Wallace said...

Bartholomew, you are mistaken.
a) The quote you are referring to remains in the book.
b) It is from Koch's publicist, not lawyer.
c) What I *volunteered* to do, as a courtesy, was to make the context even clearer—in the paperback edition—that I did not personally subscribe to the quote, but was merely conveying the publicist's opinion.
d) I made this change months before your father filed his lawsuit, and has nothing to do with it.

At 7:15 PM, Blogger billn said...

Very sad. Not that we have BW here and Bartholomew (proxy) Broadbent, rather that one threat from BB renders comments deleted by authors and administrators alike - reminds me of another 'Kafka-esque' episode in the press today....

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Jim Budd said...

Very sad? Depends upon what the comments said? UK libel laws are tough, so possibly careless comments are best deleted.

At 8:39 PM, Blogger The Wine Mule said...

Jamie: No need to apologize. I have no desire to do anything that might even remotely result in legal jeopardy for you. Or for me.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

wine mule, you are a decent and gracious individual

I feel an apology is in order when I delete posts, though - I only do it reluctantly because I value freedom of expression

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Ian S said...

I will offer (a somewhat rare!) compliment to Robert Parker, as he has just offered a pretty positive congratulation to Michael Broadbent on this result.

I recall thinking his post on the subject in the "beyond belief" thread on e-bob was provocative in criticising MB for bringing the claim - though he clarifies here that he thinks it would have blown over and been forgotten without the case - and that was his logic for the comment. FWIW I disagree and am glad MB has cleared his name iro the statements he challenged and that are now removed, but I appreciate the clarification from RMP.

Indeed that very section of RMP's post, goes on to offer another fine piece of common sense that says the case has "just served as a catalyst to refocus a disproportionat amount of attention(the threads here for example) to issues none of us are qualified to comment on". This is very sage advice and hopefully will encourage his own forumites to be more considered in their postings in the future. I have great sympathy for both Bartholomew Broadbent and others who have challenged some of the comments made. They have more patience than I would have - hence I lurk there (on occasion) without giving myself the opportunity to get involved!

You seem to be saying that this out of court settlement proves nothing. I (and I suspect most others) will choose to differ with you on this.

As a potential reader of an updated 2nd edition (which I see enough potential for if Rodenstock ever comes to trial) or indeed a follow-up, I'd be more inclined to buy & read if you accepted this out of court settlement with good grace and humility.



At 10:26 PM, Blogger Bob Rossi said...

Ian S - as a lawyer, it's clear to me that the settlement means nothing as far as liability is concerned, given the UK's libel laws. If the suit was brought in the US, my opinion would be different, but the British libel laws are incredibly plaintiff-friendly because of the lack of First Amendment protection. By settling quickly (and presumably for a modest sum), the publisher avoided significant legal costs and a possible loss due to the burden of proof in the UK.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger DermotMW said...

Although I'm an MW I don't know Michael Broadbent but I would tend to feel that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

Consequently, it is important to bear in mind that "impressions" gleaned from an article or book, once "published" on the web, can leave a very lasting impression - one which may very well be inaccurate or hurtful.

Having said that, I haven't read the book but, I have to say, I am now likely to go out and buy it as a result of all this recent furore. I'm not entirely sure that this was the desired end result of the lawsuit.

I rather think that all should try to close this discussion as few of us are qualified in law (I'm not), few of us know the real (to either party) facts of the case and any comment is likely to be fanciful speculation, at best, and actually libellous at worst.

I also think that those representing either side are better off fighting their battles elsewhere and, preferably, with each other and the rest of us should find another topic.

I dislike the apparent threat of legal action being used, even if unintentionally. If the desire is simply to inform us that we (or worse, Jamie) could lay ourselves open to suit then a more polite, or less aggressive, way of expressing this would have been better. Still, hindsight is wonderful and I'm sure feelings are running high today.

At 11:38 PM, Anonymous Ian S said...

There seems to be a lot of expertise in the US on UK libel laws at the moment! (:wink:)

At least I suspect you have some insight into UK law, unlike many of the others passing comment on the failings in the UK legal system. That said, ex-advocate RMP said "Seems like a win to me....", so opinions differ even amongst those versed in the US legal system.

I'm sure the truth is (as ever) in the detail. At the moment it sounds like the aftermath of an election where each party is claiming how big or small the defeat is. We've not seen the seat count, so we don't know whether it's a Pyrrhic victory, a moderate victory or a major one.

What we risk forgetting in this is the positives that both Benjamin and Michael have brought to wine enthusiasts.

Wise words indeed. There have been some pretty inflamed, ill-informed and abusive internet arguments and I'm ashamed at some of the exchanges that have taken place.

As a community we've not covered ourselves in glory in this matter. On balance I think your advice is the right course of action.



At 6:47 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Sorry Benjamin: I had to remove your post. I just don't think it's wise to have you make those points on a UK-based blog when the legal action concerned your book, even if you weren't involved in the action.

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Owen Edwards said...

I claim no knowledge of the case and have a great deal of admiration for Michael Broadbent, so I'll keep off that.

But Bartholomew, whilst your care for your father's concern is admirable, your wild threats are not. Threatening to sue people for internet speculation? Abominable behaviour.

If you'd threatened me with a libel suit for discussing the matter here, I could only have hoped we'd lived in a more honourable age when I could have directed you to my second for further communication.

Absolutely disgraceful.

At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Dave T said...

Threatening to sue people for internet speculation? Abominable behaviour.

If you'd threatened me with a libel suit for discussing the matter here, I could only have hoped we'd lived in a more honourable age when I could have directed you to my second for further communication.

The libel laws exist for a reason.

How idiotic to think that you can write what you like on an internet site viewed by millions and defend it all as "speculation".

You need to get in the real world.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Owen Edwards said...

Dave T: If Michael Broadbent (who, as noted, I have always admired, and whose reputation did not suffer with me re: the book) thinks the best way to clear his name is to have his son chase down commentators on a wine blog, then he and his are the ones who need to face reality. Do they really think that'll stop people talking about the book and the allegations made? People on this thread were threatened with suits for no good reason.

Dishonourable, bullying and ineffective.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Bartholomew Broadbent said...

No good reason? You did not, obviously, see the posts which were voluntarily removed by the author, or the ones removed by the blog administrator. There was a good reason. I'm sorry if you felt that my post was directed at you, it was not.

My father does not have a computer, let alone know how to open a blog or send an e-mail. He is not here to defend himself and he has not asked me to do so. However, he is grateful that I have his best interests at heart and I do provide him with information that has helped his case.

I have not, contrary to your interpretation, threatened to sue anyone. All I have said is that libel and defamation on the internet is as legitimate as any a place and that anyone who is imprudent enough to write risky posts needs to be aware of the facts that they are not immune from litigation. That's all.

People on some websites seem to think they have the rights that others don't have. It is just like road rage. It is no justification for rudeness, just because you are in a car and anonymous.

At 8:37 PM, Blogger Owen Edwards said...


As I've said, I'm sure you have your father's best interests at heart. I am entirely willing to believe the allegations to be untrue - as I've also said. I haven't read the book. What peripheral material I have encountered gives me no strong reason to think that Michael Broadbent was involved in any underhand activity, and my immense admiration for him remains intact. In fact, it was not shaken until this.

If you believe, however, his interests involve going around wine blogs and forums threatening dissenters, then our ideas of "reputation" diverge rapidly.

re: your suggestion no threats were made, only truths explained, how about this:

"Glen is actually setting himself up to be sued too, if he continues to repeat such defamatory views which have no basis on truth"

It's not even a veiled threat. It's a cease and desist order. He was personally named by the son of the plaintiff as someone who should be quiet, lest he be sued. That was not a general warning, or a polite explanation of the situation, but a threat.

I'm afraid that your father's reputation seems far more under threat now than it did before - witness some of the discussion on wine forums outside of the UK.

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Broadbent apparently believes that the UK libel laws don't apply to his speculation regarding the motives of the publisher in settling or the practical meaning of such a settlement. Perhaps those posts should be removed as well . . .

At 2:03 AM, Blogger Mike M. said...

Actually, as a U.S. lawyer, I think you can make a strong argument that it is the U.S. defamation laws that need reform, not those in the UK. It is almost to the point that a potential defamer can say almost anything about a public figure in the U.S. and get away with it, not matter how wreckless. Actual malice is an almost impossible standard to meet. While freedom of the press is important, with that freedome comes responsibility. NY Times v. Sullivan takes away that responsibility and you get ridiculous results where slanderous statements are made with near impunity.

Finally, as for the younger Mr. Broadbent's reminding people of their legal responsibilities, I don't see that as a threat, but as a pointed reminder. It's high time folks were made responsible for that the harm that is done by irresponsible and false statements.

At 2:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My lawyer son who lives in New York purchased this book for me upon release as I used to be in the wine industry and know some of the characters involved directly or in personality as they are very stereotypical of wealthy wine buffs. The psychology of those involved is fascinating - so much ego and pride.
Michael Broadbent's reputation is not fully restored by these legal proceedings and although I have the utmost respect for him having dealt with Christie's in the 70's, he has shown normal human frailty in all of these dealings. Personally I did not feel the content of the book warranted legal action but the fact it occured adds to the wonderful saga whihc is no more than the human character revealed.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Owen Edwards said...

Mike M: I'm baffled that a man of such august reputation should need defending by his own son on the comments page of a blog, in ways that plainly did suggest that an individual here (a named individual) might find himself in court.

Those with reputations such as Mr Broadbent need not feel worried that the small number of people involved in their worlds will believe an implication (denied by the author all along) of a passage in a book. I do not for one moment believe that he was knowingly involved in any wrongdoing; by the very nature of the topic, I can have no idea how many bottles may have slipped under the radar, but let's assume, for the sake of this conversation, it's 0.

However, bullying blog commentators with the strong hand of a plaintiff-friendly UK Libel system does not help preserve the magnificent reputation Mr Broadbent has accrued, and this is what I have implored his son to considr. Furthermore, some truth rings to the idea of it being wrong to decide Random House's motives in settling. Apparently, RH has not retracted its belief in the book in any other country - suggesting that truth value extends as far as the limits of the libel laws of each country.

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, perhaps Great Britain could use a constitution, with a first ammendment too.


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