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(Note that I 100% think the Sandy Hook shootings were 100% real.)

From a BBC article:

In June a Wisconsin judge ruled that James Fetzer had defamed Leonard Pozner by claiming he had fabricated the death certificate of his son Noah.

...

In his book, written with co-author Mike Palacek, Mr Fetzer claimed that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, ...

Which means that the following defense did not work:

"Fetzer concluded, based on disclosed facts X, Y and Z that the Sandy Hook shootings were a hoax, and therefore Noah's death certificate must be fake."

So, why didn't it work? If the reasoning used is illogical enough then "opinion based on disclosed facts" doesn't apply? Because Fetzer went beyond just saying that the death certificate was fake, and more specifically said that Leonard Pozner himself had faked it?

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If the reasoning used is illogical enough then "opinion based on disclosed facts" doesn't apply?

The plausibility or logic of a defamer's pretext or alleged rationale is not what determines whether his publication is an actionable statement of fact or a non-actionable statement of opinion. The "disclosed facts X, Y, and Z" could be objectively verifiable and yet fall short of supporting the defamer's conclusory statement.

Page 128 of the transcript (posted in the other answer) is crucial: The defamer admitted that his conclusion in the publication was wrong, and that he was taking back "[his] accusation that the death certificate was Photoshopped". Although the defamer's admission might result in a lower amount of damages to be awarded, the admission itself (1) implies that his publication was false nonetheless, and (2) contradicts Fetzer's affirmation that "all of the death certificates are false and fraudulent" (page 157) except for the authentic ones he filed "for comparison purposes".

Most of the excerpts I read from the transcript are about basic notions of procedural law that the judge explains to the litigants, including the notorious mistakes some incompetent lawyer made in Palecek's motion (which I pinpointed here). If you would like a more specific assessment of why or whether the defense you paraphrased would not work, please specify what you mean by "disclosed facts X, Y, and Z" and I will supplement this answer accordingly.

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The "failure" in this case can be seen in the transcript of the hearing of arguments for a motion for summary judgment, especially starting at p. 163 where the judge gives his reasons and his ruling granting summary judgment. It really reduces to this sentence: "Having concluded there's no genuine dispute as to any of the material facts, I conclude that the Plaintiff is entitled to judgment on liability as a matter of law". There is ample discussion in the preceding pages establishing that the two sides agreed on the legally-material facts. Defendants (who represented themselves) may have had some idea for a "matter of law" defense, and did propose that plaintiff is a "public figure" (thus bring in the "actual malice" standard), but the judge ruled against that. Since the statements were false, what was left for the jury was to decide what damages to award.

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    "Defendants (who represented themselves) " Ooooooh. – Matthew Cline Jun 7 at 1:57
  • @MatthewCline ""Defendants (who represented themselves) " Ooooooh". Don't let that bias you against pro se litigants. In fact, page 17 of the transcript reflects how extremely incompetent a lawyer can be: The judge noticed that Palecek's motion (1) was "not complying with Supreme Court Rule 20:1.2", (2) "was prepared by a lawyer not licensed to practice law in Wisconsin", (3) the judge said "I don't even know what this lawyer's meaning by that", and (4) this lawyer made "no response to the merits of the Plaintiff's motion" (p.18). Item (2) alone warrants sanctions by the State Bar. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 7 at 13:13
  • @MatthewCline The defendants said that they had tried to retain counsel, but nobody wanted to pick up their hot potato. Iñaki Viggers is referring to the fact that their documents were prepared by a retired lawyer. – Paul Johnson Jun 7 at 13:31
  • @PaulJohnson Retirement has nothing to do with a lawyer's extreme ineptitude. The duty to be licensed in the jurisdiction at issue, and the need to address the merits of an adversary's arguments are two of the most elementary, most clearly established notions any lawyer is supposed to know. These are not principles that changed sometime after this lawyer retired. One can only wonder what other monumental mistakes this lawyer made during his "practice of law". Regardless, a lawyer cannot reasonably be exempted from sanctions merely on grounds that he was retired when he indulged in malpractice. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 8 at 7:44
  • @IñakiViggers Of course you are correct, and I didn't intend to imply otherwise. I just wanted to clear up the apparent conflict between "representing themselves" and "incompetent lawyer". In fact I do wonder if "retired" was perhaps an understatement. – Paul Johnson Jun 8 at 8:09

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