Lawyer sues own witness for libel

Lawsuit comes days after post-testimony confrontation with local psychiatrist

Dr. Robert Hunt says he's sorry. It remains to be seen whether an apology alone will satisfy Nashville attorney James L. Harris.

Harris filed suit against Hunt Monday in Davidson County Circuit Court, just days after Hunt testified in a deposition related to a wrongful-termination lawsuit. The attorney accuses the physician of libel and slander. He wants $2 million in damages.

It's not unusual for a witness called by one side in a civil case to have testy exchanges with the other side's lawyer. But Harris himself had called Hunt, a psychiatrist who specializes in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as a witness on behalf of his client, who was a patient of Hunt. The client is suing a former employer on the grounds that it should have made workplace accommodations for his ADHD and depression rather than firing him.

In the complaint, a copy of which is available at this link, Harris says that after the deposition, Hunt told his patient that Harris was "a complete waste" at the deposition and that Harris was costing him "credibility, information, and status at every step."

The doctor allegedly called Harris "completely inept" and contrasted his legal skills unfavorably with those of opposing counsel. And Hunt is said to have advised the client that it was "urgent" to fire Harris as his attorney.

Harris says Hunt later e-mailed similar statements to the client and others, "thus further publishing his defamatory remarks."

In addition to libel and slander, the lawsuit accuses Hunt of intentionally interfering with the business relationship between Harris and his client. It seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and "a like amount" in punitive damages.

For his part, Hunt issued the following statement last night to NashvillePost.com:

"I was concerned that in my deposition on behalf of my patient, that I was not being asked enough questions by my patient’s attorney (Harris) to adequately convey the degree in which his psychiatric difficulties merited more accommodations in his  work environment. Also the demands and expectations of his work were unrealistic for anyone to perform. I was wishing to be sure that my patient’s rights and issues were adequately explained and fully represented in future stages of litigation.

"I was not seeking to undermine nor insult Attorney Harris – only to urge more forceful presentation of my patient’s concerns as his case proceeded. I did not wish to offend Attorney Harris by my comments. I apologize and ask his forgiveness if I was too assertive in my patient’s interest. We are on the same side of this case, and I would like to move forward together, not as adversaries."