PUBLISHED:March 24, 2021

First Amendment Clinic’s student-attorneys prevail at discovery hearing


Hadley Dreibelbis '21 and Philip Golodetz '21 won praise from the judge for the quality of their advocacy.

Duke Law School's First Amendment Clinic prevailed at a discovery hearing in federal court in a long-running defamation case, and the student-attorneys on the case won praise from the judge for the quality of their advocacy.

The case is being brought by a businessman who previously served as the chief of staff to former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. The plaintiff is seeking over $110 million in damages from the clinic’s client, a disabled former utility worker, for comments the client made on social media that criticized the plaintiff’s efforts to rezone the defendant’s local community.

Judge David C. Norton of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina ruled in favor of the clinic in Kent v. Hennelly on their motion to compel. In a footnote to his Feb. 8 order, Norton complimented 3Ls Hadley Dreibelbis and Philip Golodetz, who argued the motion for the defendant.

“Impressed with the poise of their presentation and the acuity of their arguments, the court congratulates Ms. Dreibelbis and Mr. Golodetz on what is sure to be the first of many successful court appearances,” Norton wrote.

Dreibelbis and Golodetz successfully argued that the court should order the plaintiff to provide their client with information pertaining to the plaintiff’s public figure status as well as evidence relating to the substantial truth of their client’s comments. The court granted the clinic’s motion in full, requiring the plaintiff to provide supplemental discovery responses on all disputed requests.

The suit is one of two being brought against the clinic’s client on the basis of the same facts. The clinic previously won summary judgment in the related action in April 2020. That action is currently being appealed to the Fourth Circuit, and the clinic is handling the case.