BATON ROUGE — The director of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging has filed a defamation suit against the family of a former client.
Tasha Clark-Amar filed her complaint with the 19th Judicial District Court in late April. She alleges that Tracie Davis and Jacquelyn Antoine, family members of Clark-Amar’s now-deceased client Helen Plummer, made statements that were meant to turn public opinion against her and negatively impact her job with the Council on Aging.
The defendants had accused Clark-Amar in March of using her position to influence the 95-year-old Plummer for her own financial gain. They claimed Clark-Amar had convinced Plummer to name her the overseer of her estate and leaving her $120,000 in a trust, to be collected over 20 years at $500 per month.
“If the statements made by the family are true or are clearly opinion, then Clark-Amar’s case fails,” Elizabeth Carter, a law professor at Louisiana State University, told to the Louisiana Record. “The truth is an absolute defense in these types of cases. In reading through the allegations made in Clark-Amar’s lawsuit, I think she is going to have an uphill battle there. Many of the statements seem to fall into either or both of those categories.”
If any of the statements made by the family are shown to be untrue, the case will largely depend on whether Clark-Amar can be considered a public figure. Given her position on the council, Carter believes that is the case.
“If she is a public figure, then she cannot prevail unless she shows that the statements made by the family were not only untrue, but were also made with actual malice,” Carter said. “That means she would need to show the family either knew the information was false or acted with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity. That can be a difficult burden to meet. If Clark-Amar is not considered a public figure then showing defamation is easier.”
Clark-Amar’s suit claims that the defendants’ comments caused her mental anguish and distress, fear, embarrassment and humiliation. She also says the statements resulted in a loss of her reputation and a loss of earning capacity.
“Given all the information that has come out as a result of the recent legislative audit of the Council on Aging and as a result of other news reports, I believe this will be difficult for her to show," Carter said. "In other words, the legislative audit and Clark-Amar’s actions that were unrelated to Ms. Plummer or her estate did a lot to damage her reputation. Also, Clark-Amar is still in position at the Council on Aging. So unless she is fired, she has a tough case here."
The defamation suit is not the only legal action Clark-Amar has taken against Plummer’s family. According to Carter, she also sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the family from making any further statements about her.
That action was filed in Baton Rouge City Court, despite the defamation case having been filed in a district court.
“The bifurcation of those two actions into two different courts was unusual,” Carter said.
Clark-Amar was initially granted the TRO, but when the parties went back for a preliminary injunction hearing, the judge made a different ruling.
“The parties never reached the merits of a preliminary injunction because the judge ruled (correctly in my view) that Clark-Amar should not have sought the TRO/preliminary injunction in city court when the underlying lawsuit had been filed in a different court," Carter said. "So, the judge dissolved the TRO and denied the preliminary injunction. He essentially told her to go seek that in district court if she wanted it.”
Whether the allegations against Clark-Amar are true, her suit is unconventional.
“I would also add that bringing a defamation suit against the family of a deceased woman is rather unusual,” Carter said. “In other words, it is quite unusual for a person accused of undue influence to turn around and sue the family for defamation.”