Donald V. Watkins
Perkins/Matrix Case Appealed to U.S. Supreme Court
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on December 17, 2022
On December 16, 2022, my former law firm, Donald V. Watkins, P.C., and I petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the $1.5 million judgment entered in favor of Alabama “dirty tricks” operative Joe Perkins and his public relations firm, Matrix, LLC, on August 20, 2021 by a state court judge in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court judge Allen May awarded Matrix and Perkins $1.5 million on the plaintiffs’ state law defamation claims without conducting the jury trial demanded by my law firm and me.
On September 23, 2022, the all-white, nine-member, all-Republican, Alabama Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Judge May’s $1.5 million judgment without issuing a written opinion that addressed the legal issues we raised on appeal.
You may read my Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court by clicking on this link. The Petition lays out the facts in this case that were completely ignored by the Alabama state courts.
Is Truth a Defense to a Defamation Claim in Alabama?
In September, October, and November of 2017, I published a series of exclusive articles on my Facebook page that exposed the role Joe Perkins and Matrix played in the rape-suicide case of Megan Rondini, a well-liked and highly-respected University of Alabama honors student.
On July 2, 2015, Megan Rondini reported to Tuscaloosa County, Alabama Sheriff’s Office deputies that she was raped at the home of local playboy T.J. "Sweet T" Bunn, Jr., a Tuscaloosa County businessman and then-member of the Alabama State Conservation Board. Rondini also made the same report to a rape counselor at the University of Alabama. "Sweet T" is the son of a powerful Alabama Crimson Tide football program booster, who has since died. His wealthy family was also friends and supporters of disgraced former Alabama governor and Perkins political "puppet," Robert Bentley.
Sheriff’s deputies quickly turned against Megan Rondini once they realized "Sweet T" was the designated rape suspect. Additionally, the University's rape counselor withdrew from counseling Rondini after she learned that "Sweet T" was the accused rapist.
Once she realized there would be no criminal justice in her rape case, a distraught Megan Rondini committed suicide. In July 2017, Buzzfeed News featured Megan Rondini's tragic story in a widely disseminated international article. My investigative articles followed. They reported undisclosed details of the police cover-up and failure of criminal justice in Rondini's rape-suicide case.
My articles also presented the cold, hard, truth about what happened to Megan Rondini, why, and who was involved.
Sweet T never sued me for defamation, nor did he demand a retraction of any statement in the published articles.
Perkins/Matrix Sued Watkins for “Defamation”
On November 13, 2017, Joe Perkins and Matrix sued my law firm and me for “defamation.” We asserted First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of the press defenses.
Perkins and Matrix claimed that my articles portrayed them in a false light by describing the role they played in the Megan Rondini rape-suicide case.
The articles in question were based upon my conversation with Joe Perkins, my independent research, multiple background sources, interviews with Megan Rondini's father, information supplied by confidential and credible news sources, and forensic evidence. The sources for these articles were described in a deposition I gave in the case, which was part of the evidentiary record in this case. This evidence was ignored by Judge May and the Alabama Supreme Court.
Joe Perkins gave the court a sworn affidavit in the case in which he simply stated: "I have never taken any actions to obstruct the truth in any rape case, including the rape allegations raised by Ms. [Megan] Rondini and her family." Perkins’ affidavit was sufficient to persuade Judge May and the Alabama Supreme Court to rule in favor of Perkins and Matrix.
Jeff Pitts Confirmed Perkins'/Matrix’s Role in the Rondini Case
On August 3, 2022, Jeff Pitts, Matrix's former CEO, filed an Answer in a lawsuit Perkins filed against him in Jefferson County, Alabama Circuit Court. The Answer contained a bombshell revelation about the Megan Rondini rape-suicide case. In his Sixth Defense, Pitts stated: "Defendant Pitts was compelled to resign [his job as chief executive officer of Matrix] because of Perkins' inappropriate and unethical business practices, including, but not limited to, initiating and directing the creation of an explicit video used in an attempt to intimidate the family of Megan Rondini, a rape victim who had committed suicide, to settle a civil claim [filed by her estate]....".
Pitts' statement confirms what I reported about Perkins’/Matrix’s role in the Rondini case.
On October 26, 2017, I broke the news about Perkins' fake video in an article titled "Matrix, LLC, Implicated in Threat Against Megan Rondini Family." The article stated:
"On October 4th, Matrix created a big problem for the Bunn family and itself. On this date, Matrix surreptitiously delivered a plain envelope addressed to the law office of the Rondini family's Birmingham attorney that contained an EMTEC M700 16GB flash drive with two nude photos -- one of a male and another one with a male and female in bed -- and a one-minute-long 'video diary Number #1' recorded by Megan while she was home alone, sitting up in her bed, playfully talking about her evening at Harry's Bar, and eating a snack.....
The purpose of the flash drive was to threaten and intimidate the Rondini family, which has a federal court wrongful death lawsuit pending against Sweet T and other defendants for causing or contributing to Megan's suicide after he escaped criminal justice in the case ....
Information technology forensic experts examined the flash drive and found that it contained a host of information from a laptop used by Matrix employee Robert Taylor ....”.
In an October 29, 2017 article titled, "Bunn Family PR Firm Linked to Recent Cyber Attacks," I again discussed Matrix's creation and delivery of the fake video to the Rondini family's law firm. This is the same video that Jeff Pitts referenced in his Answer to Perkins’ complaint in their litigation.
Despite my introduction of the flash drive photo, Metadata, and other credible evidence of Matrix's direct involvement in the Megan Rondini rape-suicide case, Judge Allen May and the Alabama Supreme Court convinced themselves that they needed to side with Perkins and Matrix in the lawsuit.
Alabama's Judicial System Gave Birth to New York Times v. Sullivan
Most people do not realize that Alabama's judicial system gave birth to the use of defamation lawsuits as a weapon to chill the First Amendment freedom of speech of political progressives, independent journalists, and social justice activists. The famous New York Times v. Sullivan case arose from the concerted efforts of white Alabama elected officials and state court judges to use defamation lawsuits to quash local, state, and national support for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1960s civil rights movement.
Not only did state officials indict Dr. King on two felony counts of perjury in connection with his state tax returns for 1956 and 1958, but they also joined local officials in naming Dr. King and four other prominent black ministers -- Reverends Ralph Abernathy, Solomon S. Seay, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, and Joseph Lowery -- as defendants in their defamation case against the New York Times. The state court trial judge "homecooked" the defendants during the trial. An all-white jury ruled against all of the defendants, who were ordered to pay a $500,000 judgment.
The all-white Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict and judgment against the New York Times, Dr. King, and the other four black ministers. The defendants thereafter appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On March 9, 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling because the plaintiffs in the case, who were public officials, failed to prove that the defendants acted with "actual malice" in publishing the statements at issue or that the statements were published with a "reckless disregard of whether [they were] true or false." In subsequent cases, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed this same "actual malice" burden of proof on "public figures" like Joe Perkins and Matrix when they sue members of the press and public for defamation.
Judge Allen May and the Alabama Supreme Court engaged in the same old fashion "homecooking" in Perkins' case that was viewed with disfavor in New York Times v. Sullivan. What is worse, the Alabama courts abandoned the “actual malice” standard and used a lower “negligence” standard to rule for Perkins and Matrix.
The state courts also ruled against my law firm, even though my firm had no Facebook page and did not write or endorse any of the editorial views expressed in my articles. Nothing tied my firm to the published articles.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Reverends Ralph Abernathy, Solomon S. Seay, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, and Joseph Lowery, I had to appeal my case to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to protect freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Alabama. The Alabama state courts are, once again, using state defamation laws to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This time, they are attacking the voice of a social justice advocate who stood up for a rape-suicide victim after the Alabama criminal justice system failed her.
In an ironic twist of fate, Jeff Pitts' attorneys issued a subpoena to Harry Pasisis, the manager of Five Star Preserve (Plantation) in Kellyton, Alabama, for records, documents, and written communications relating to Joe Perkins. Five Star Preserve is a secluded hunting lodge with 13 extravagant rooms and a world-class shooting range.
I now know who gathered at Five Star Preserve, why, and what plan of action was hatched at this retreat to besmirch the name and character of Megan Rondini and her family.
All cover-ups have a shelf-life. Fortunately, this one is about to expire. The fallout from this cover-up will be catastrophic on so many levels and for so many people.
"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again," said William Cullen Bryant. It always does.