LA-based celebrity attorney Christopher Melcher (of Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial fame) discusses Samantha Markle‘s struggling defamation case against her half-sister, Meghan Markle.
Not directly associated with the case, Christopher Melcher is ranked one of the best family law attorneys in California. His celebrity trial commentary has gone viral around the Depp vs. Heard trial and throughout the #FreeBritney movement. Chris is not a regular royal watcher and dissects Samantha Markle’s defamation case based on evidence alone. He says while “both women have lied” Meghan’s half-sister’s pursuits are not likely strong enough to secure a victory in a courtroom.
You can listen to the full interview wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Otherwise, we are still on YouTube!
Kinsey Schofield: I’m with Christopher Melcher. He is a California-based divorce attorney and I know that you recognize his face because… who was not a Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial watcher? Royal watchers converted very quickly to trial watchers over the last few months. Christopher, you were my go-to source for the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial because you were so straightforward. So honest, and I love the way you explain things to us. So thank you so much for talking to me today.
Christopher Melcher: Well, thanks Kinsey for having me and for that compliment because that’s, that is my goal. This is a hobby of mine. I’m a practicing lawyer but I do enjoy legal commentary in just taking these kind of obscure legal cases and concepts and putting them into plain English but always fact-based.
KS: Absolutely. And I’ve got a doozy for you! I’m going to tell you what I think is happening with Samantha Markle and Meghan Markel… and I want you to correct me… is that alright? Okay, so what I think is going on is… Samantha Markle, Meghan Markel’s older half-sister, is suing Meghan because she believes that Meghan lied about her during the Oprah Winfrey interview and the book Finding Freedom. And Samantha claims that with Meghan lying about her… it has hurt her financially to the tune of $75,000… which I have a hard time believing. But is that correct that she feels like this hurt her financially? So she wants to punish her sister financially?
CM: That’s exactly what she’s claiming in the lawsuit. So, if you just look at the paperwork, you get each side story, but then we also do have to kind of zoom out a little bit and figure out what is really driving these legal disputes. And to me that, I mean, any legal dispute is terrible for somebody to go through. But when you have family members going to court or spouses going to court, it’s so destructive. And you kind of wonder, Is that worth it? Now on paper? That’s exactly right. What you said is that Samantha claims that there were statements made in this book, Finding Freedom that Meghan didn’t write, I know she has her fingerprints on it, basically. But she did not write that book. And there were statements in there about them really not being very close, and that Samantha was willing to sell any information she had about Meghan to the media. And then during an Oprah Winfrey interview, that Meghan made similar statements about not being close to Samantha, and that Samantha changed her name back to Markle only after Meghan started dating or having a relationship with Harry. And the implication is that she’s just doing this for publicity or to sell information. So Samantha, says that those statements are defamatory. Now under law, you have to show that the statements are number one false… and number two… are really statements of fact… opinion… is not really actionable. So false statements of fact of her concerning Samantha, that caused her to suffer damages. And so we’ll go into the details on that. And that’s where the case kind of honestly starts falling apart. But that’s the overview of the legal landscape of what’s happening in court.
KS: And with the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, I know that we were dealing with big, big money, I mean, ungodly amounts of money in that in that trial. But it did feel like Johnny Depp was doing it to prove himself and reputation. He wanted to save his reputation. And this is where it gets iffy with Samantha because Johnny Depp had at least 30 years as a working actor. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is so huge, you know, we see him on rides at Disneyland. There is such a clear existence of his life before these statements or before the Washington Post article came out. There was a clear record of success. We don’t really have that with Samantha. Is Samantha, you know, does it feel like this is a case that she’s just trying to quit quickly cash out? Which I do believe Meghan Markle’s team has suggested… or do you think that this is a trial, a woman trying to save her reputation through the court system similar to Depp?
CM: Well, that’s, I think, how Samantha wants to portray herself. Her narrative is, is that ‘I am this step- [half] sister that is hurt by Meghan’s attempt to recast history and to basically harm my reputation. So that this information that I’ve been sharing about her won’t be deemed credible.’ So it’s like a counter-attack is what Samantha is saying… that Meghan is so conniving that she’s spreading all this false information out there in the media about Samantha so that Samantha’s statements aren’t believed. But the problem is, is that when you look at what others are saying about Samantha, she is selling information to the media, stories about Meghan, and this has become her basic way of making a living. Piers Morgan was on… there’s a video circulating on Twitter… where Piers Morgan said, ‘I just finished interviewing Samantha, we paid her for the interview. And this is what she does. She basically sells dirt about Meghan.’ And then Samantha was also interviewed on another channel where she admitted, like, ‘Yeah, I’m basically cashing in.’ Those were words used by her, ‘cashing in on this.’ So the story by Samantha doesn’t really fit the facts. So her saying like, ‘Hey, I’m just out here living my life as Samantha, and all of a sudden, I’m dragged into this big controversy that my sister is involved in it. My sister is worried about me expressing the truth. So she’s now trying to harm my reputation.’ If Samantha had left a quiet life and never put herself in the spotlight, I would have sympathy for that. But she did not do that. She went and tried to publicize herself and made her living off of selling dirt about Meghan… so having some dirt thrown back at her. Seems like fair play to me.
KS: Christopher, it’s the American dream. I’m just kidding. No, this is so interesting, though, because you know, Meghan, Meghan Markel is kind of a polarizing figure in the United States. But when we look at the evidence that’s going to… that we expect to be presented… if it actually gets to court, which is a question I should ask… Will it ever get to court? You know, Samantha does not have the strongest case here. Will it go to court?
CM: Yeah. So this is important when we look at these stories. You know, Depp Heard, Britney Spears vs. Jamie Spears, all cases that we’ve followed, there’s like the villain, and there’s this good person, the victim, and then there’s the villain involved. And we like stories like that. They’re very easily understood but they also lacked nuance. And so when we get into the story a little bit deeper, we’re seeing that some people rallying around the favorite party in the case, without doing any real analysis, on whether the so-called villain is such a bad person, or whether there’s any fault to be shared. So when I’m looking at this as a lawyer… when I looked at the court file because I wanted to understand this case… I looked at every piece of paper that’s filed here… this thing is a disaster. Samantha’s attorney bailed on the case very early on. And to get out of a case as a lawyer, you have to have permission from the client or permission from the court. And so this lawyer wanted out… Samantha wouldn’t give consent. So that means to me as a lawyer, Samantha’s not the one dissatisfied with the lawyer. If she was… she would just fire the lawyer and hire somebody else. She would consent. She would say, ‘I want you out of my case.’ But here was the lawyer who wanted out and Samantha’s saying no in an early stage of the case. That shows a huge problem between the two and that relationship. So the court eventually allowed the lawyer out. And a new lawyer steps in and like a week later, Samantha files a motion to disqualify the judge. And so that tells me that was probably the source of the conflict, this first lawyer saying I’m not doing that. And so the second lawyer does and the basis of the motion is that this, the federal judge appointed by President Obama 13 years earlier, could not be impartial in the case because Meghan and Harry had been photographed with the Obamas and so they have some kind of relationship. Now… I guess on its face you might think…
KS: Let me just interrupt you… isn’t this the same judge that refused to throw out the case when Meghan Markle requested earlier to have the case tossed? So, it looks kind of like the judge was siding with Samantha initially? So why would you go and then try to have that person toss it?
CM: It’s insane. Okay, because you know, even though I can understand, you know, in a very attenuated way, like, okay, Obama appointed this judge and Obama knows Meghan. Maybe there would be some concerns there. But you have to have the goods, if you go after the judge, you better win. Because if you misfire, and the judge rejects it, you’re done for. So that’s why no, no rational attorney would say, ‘We’re going to attack the judge…’ unless you’re pretty sure you’re gonna get win this disqualification. So the judge responded as he was required to saying, like, ‘Look, I’ve never met Obama. Yeah, the guy appointed me 13 years ago, but I’ve never met the man, I have nothing to do with them. It makes no difference at all to me. And no, no reasonable person looking at this would think that I’m going to be influenced by it’ and denied it. So again, right there just tells me a huge problem. So where they’re at in the case right now is that she had to amend or she decided to amend her complaint. So you know, anyone can sue anyone for anything, right? If you got a computer, you just type this stuff up and file it with the court. So she’s on round two… and she’s refined her allegations and Meghan is saying that these allegations are not sufficient, even if they were true, even if this whole story that Samantha is saying is true, it does not amount to a legal case. Because the statements… number one, mostly were not even made by Meghan. They were made by the authors of this book, which we’re going to talk about in a minute. So she’s disavowing any of the statements other than one she made on Oprah. And she’s saying, even if all these statements were attributed to me, they’re number one true… which now is not defamatory. And even if they were false… their statements are my opinion about my relationship with my sister, which isn’t actionable. So the whole thing should be tossed. So the judge will review that. The preference is to allow cases to go forward on their merits. So the judge might dismiss some parts of her claim and say, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to go there.’ But, you know, potentially, we’ll go to trial. My concern about it, is that this gives a way… a platform for Samantha to continue to exploit the relationship that she has with Meghan, because, look, we’re talking about it. And so other people are going to talk about it… gets her in the news… she does some interview… she makes some money. She can also use the power of the court to subpoena information. And she already has some good emails that we’ll talk about that are attached to this complaint. So she can use that to extract information from Meghan and then publicize that and sell that. So… I kind of went back to your question, which seems like a long time ago. What’s driving this? I don’t think it’s the $75,000 that she claims she’s out. I think it’s her way of keeping relevant and having information that she can sell to the media about Meghan.
KS: Well, in relation to what you just said, I did see Prince Harry mentioned in the documents. Can she pull him in? Can he be questioned? Would he be put on the stand? That’s really, that’s a really scary thought to think about.
CM: Yeah, he can. I mean, this is a United States action. And Harry is in the US. And if he has information that’s relevant to these allegations, he can be brought into it. There were emails… that are relevant here and make Meghan look bad. And so one criticism I do have for Meghan here is the way that she has portrayed this book Finding Freedom as having nothing to do with her. If you read her legal papers is like, ‘Hey, that book was not written by me. I know my sister, half-sister. Samantha was mentioned in the book. There’s a whole chapter about her actually. Yeah. But I didn’t write the book. So if you got a problem go to the authors… not me.’ Well, the problem is that there are email communications. It was her assistant, and I’m drawing a blank on the gentleman’s name, but he’s…
KS: I think his name is Jason…
CM: He was the assistant here to Meghan. And Meghan had told her assistant like, ‘Hey, I know this book is being written. I want to make sure that they have the proper background and messaging here that I want to get out. And there are parts about the sister…’ and so Meghan writes that… sends it to the assistant… and the assistant sends it to the author. And I believe that Harry had emailed saying, ‘Yes, this is something that we want out there.’ So, you know, this is, is kind of in journalism, we would call, you know, kind of back-channel back briefing, background without attributing attribution. So we’ll see this happening where, you know, sometimes attorneys will call the media and saying, like, ‘Look, I got some info, don’t attribute it to me. I want to shape this story.’ So that’s what they were doing. And they figured they wouldn’t have their fingerprints on this. But they do… because there’s an email trail that shows and when you look at the statements, it’s like, ‘I didn’t have a very close relationship with Samantha and she changed her name after I started dating Harry.’ And these are the very statements that got put in the book and are now in the Oprah interview. This is the narrative that Meghan wanted to portray, to counteract these statements, the dirt that Samantha was saying about Meghan. So Samantha is correct that this happened… and Meghan should have just acknowledged it and said, like, ‘Yeah, I was concerned about what my half-sister was saying. I wanted this information out there. And you know, what? I stand behind it. It’s true.’ Rather than saying, ‘No, I didn’t write that statement.’
KS: Could that be the smoking gun in a trial? Or is it not? Because we’ve heard about it?
CM: Well, it’s out there. Because Samantha attached the emails to her complaints so we have those and she might have shot her bullet. She may not have any more information. But if the case is allowed to proceed in federal court, she will have this right to subpoena information, get more emails, get, you know, interviews under oath with folks, and develop more information. And who knows if there’s anything out there, but that’s the ding that I have on Meghan… you know, hey, if you did something, just own it, and you know, if it was wrong, then acknowledge it. But if it’s not wrong, then it’s like, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. But most people get in trouble for lying about something that they didn’t need to lie about. And that’s…
KS: Are you talking about pledged versus donated? [Laugh] I think you’re right though… with this potential trial… with this case. It’s not like there is a clear villain because both… it’s just kind of yucky. It just feels like hurt feelings. And maybe it shouldn’t be brought in front of the whole world. Is this one of those cases where a judge would make all the decisions? Or would there be jurors?
CM: Well, this initial stage that they’re going through in Meghan’s motion to dismiss is saying, ‘Hey, all these allegations don’t amount to a legal case, Judge throw it out.’ And the judge may pare it down. I don’t think the judge could throw it out. Because there’s, I mean, it like again, all you have to say is the magic words to get into the door. And the magic words are, you know, ‘These elements of defamation false statement made out of or concerning me… that damaged me… caused me to suffer a loss of income.’ So as long as she gets the magic words right, she gets past the motion to dismiss. And then the next stage would be Meghan would say, ‘Hey, now that we’ve exchanged our information or discovery, there isn’t enough. There isn’t any factual issue here to allow it to go forth to a trial, that I should just be given judgment immediately in my favor.’ And Meghan would say that the facts aren’t there to allow it to go forth to trial. She’ll have that opportunity and then if the judge denies that, then it would go to trial. But I think that Samantha is probably in no hurry to get to trial because she likely would lose there. And the longer the case goes on, the more information she can try and develop and use this to keep media attention.
KS: Wow. Yeah. So I’m just wondering, it sounds to me like you’re saying there is no reason for Meghan Markle’s camp to even remotely consider settling or paying for this to go away?
CM: Yeah, that’s right. If you just look at it as a legal case, it’s extraordinarily weak. I don’t think that Samantha will prevail here. And I think that the appetite of paying her anything would be very low. Now sometimes people will enter into a settlement because they want something else like maybe for her to stop talking. And so that could be a reason to settle some kind of payment to have Samantha stop talking. But I don’t see that that’s really indicated here because whatever Samantha had to say, she has said now multiple times, and she’s even said some things that have been untrue about Meghan… so there’s not like there’s anything that they’re holding on to that Samantha’s holding on to that could be revealed that’s worth paying for silence. The only reason that I would think Meghan would have to settle is if there is information out there that would be obtained through subpoenas, emails that would be leaked, that they don’t want out there that may cause a reason for settlement. But only they would know if that information is out there.
KS: And, again, I’m just reiterating what you said. Evidence-wise, there is not enough for Samantha to win this case. You don’t believe there’s enough evidence for Samantha to win this case, even if, and I just want to throw this out there… their dad has said he will testify. He will stand by Samantha if it goes to court. To have the presence of their father… they’re saying: ‘These statements aren’t true. We do feel like she’s trying to hurt our credibility so that she can continue on with a narrative that is false that benefits her. That elevates her.’ You don’t think that that would help to have the support of her father there?
CM: Well, it’s hard. I mean, basically, with the categories here, there are really three categories of statements. One is ‘I was never very close to Samantha.’ So if you look at that one, it’s like, well, is that really a statement of fact, that, you know, we can prove is false? In what Meghan is saying, it’s not, it’s a statement of opinion. Like when you say you’re close to somebody or not close to somebody that isn’t really something that we get to objectively prove is true or false. It’s how I feel about that. And so that is not what we call an actionable statement. So I think those statements, that category is probably going to get dismissed. And it wouldn’t make it to trial because there’s no way it’s not like… Amber, you know, I hate to bring up that whole case. But if somebody says like, ‘Hey, I was hit or I was abused,’ well, it’s either happened or didn’t happen, right? But when you’re saying ‘I was really close to my sister, I didn’t see her that often.’ It’s not something that you can really sue successfully for defamation because it’s really a statement of opinion. And it isn’t as concrete as it needs to be. The other category is… ‘Samantha changed her name back to Markle after I started dating Harry.’ The implication being that she did this for some kind of publicity reasons. Well, it’s true. She did change her name. Her name was Markle originally and then it changed a couple times because she was married and she went back to her maiden name, nothing wrong with that. And the sequence of events are probably pretty accurate that it happened around the time she started dating Harry. So it’s like… that’s not defamatory because it’s just a true statement. She did change her name back. So the other category is that if Samantha had information about Meghan… she would go and sell it. Well, that is true. I mean, Samantha has admitted to that. I saw a video of her on a news story saying, ‘Yeah, I’m selling this information. I need to make a living.’ Yeah, so the case is really hopelessly bad. I think if people hate Meghan Markle… they support Samantha because they figure ‘Hey, we don’t like Meghan so anyone attacking Meghan must be good in my book.’ But you know, you also have to look at Samantha’s motivations here. To me, it’s a very weak case. And she’s off to a very rocky start with it. So I don’t give it much success.
Kinsey Schofield is the author of R is for Revenge Dress and the founder of To Di For Daily. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.