FORT WORTH — A former intern accused of cyberstalking a Mineral Wells bat sanctuary and its president was ordered to pay about $6.1 million in damages Thursday for what a judge called egregious, malicious and intentional defamatory statements she spread across the Internet, court documents say.
The lawsuit, filed in state District Court in Tarrant County, centered on accusations that Mary Cummins, who said she lives in the Los Angeles area, made libelous statements and videos about Amanda Lollar and the Bat World Sanctuary, which she founded and runs.
The videos and statements, the suit said, were pervasive on the Internet, using “robots” to game Google and other search engines so the defamatory material would appear high in search results. Cummins’ claims eventually extended to accusations against Lollar’s attorney, as well as her own attorney, whom she accused of sleeping during a deposition.
Among other statements, Cummins was accused of saying Lollar had given rabies vaccinations to humans, an accusation that boiled down to Lollar practicing medicine without a license, the suit said.
The result of such statements exposed Lollar to “public hatred, contempt or ridicule or financial injury,” the suit said.
Bedford attorney Randy Turner of Bailey & Galyen said Lollar has been emotionally devastated by the Internet materials. She no longer goes to restaurants or movies, has her husband grocery shop, lost weight and experiences nausea and vomiting, he said.
“She’s sort of become a recluse,” he said.
Turner said he hopes the judgment will “make someone think twice before engaging in an Internet smear campaign.”
Bat World Sanctuary is a nonprofit organization devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating bats. Judge William Brigham compared Lollar’s reputation for caring for bats to noted British anthropologist Jane Goodall, who studies primates, according to a court transcript provided by Turner.
Cummins accused Lollar of performing “illegal surgeries” on bats without anesthesia, possessing and distributing controlled substances without a federal license, throwing dead bats in the trash, allowing interns to be repeatedly bitten by rabid bats, breeding bats illegally and neglecting her pet dogs, Turner said.
Cummins — who said she has been sued for defamation at least three times — also filed complaints against Lollar and the sanctuary with federal, state and local agencies including the Agriculture Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Palo Pinto district attorney, the suit said. All complaints were dismissed, but Cummins continued to publish on the Web that her claims were “under investigation,” the suit said.
Cummins, who acted as her own attorney during much of the case, said the judgment is a “travesty of justice.”
Cummins said her “reports are 100 percent the truth. I believe [the suit] was malicious and frivolous.” She said her complaints to authorities against Lollar were not all cleared.
She said that Lollar “admitted she had no proof of financial damages” and that she did not know who posted the items on the Internet. “If there were any damages, they were all self-inflicted,” she said.
Cummins also said in an interview that a “toddler was bit by a rabid bat directly outside” Lollar’s facility.
That statement was part of the defamation suit, Turner said, but a police report shows that the child had blood on his face from stomping on the bat and that “the incident occurred two blocks away from” Lollar’s office.
Cummins was accepted for an internship at Bat World in 2010. She described herself in court documents as a licensed real estate appraiser who volunteers rescuing injured animals. She said she is licensed by the Agriculture Department to care for small native wildlife.
Turner said Cummins became dissatisfied with the program and left her internship early.
After returning to California she began posting “horrific allegations of animal cruelty” against Lollar on the Internet, Turner said.
To spread her accusations, Cummins used a technique called “Google bombing,” the suit said. That involves posting Internet content and generating multiple links to that content to game search engine results, said Eric A. Shupps, president of BinaryWave in Grapevine. Shupps testified as an expert on behalf of Lollar.
Shupps said the method is a feature of Google that uses the concept of links as an indicator of how popular a site is.
Cummins also made accusations against Turner, posting a video on YouTube that shows the attorney and says he is leering at her.
Turner confirmed that the video is of him and said Cummins “spread that defamation all over the Internet.” He said she had made other accusations, including that he had massaged her hand.
“All lies,” Turner said.
Cummins’ former attorney, Neal Callaway, contradicted the accusation against Turner when he withdrew from representing her, saying in a court document that he was present during the alleged touching and did not see it. Callaway also said he did not sleep during a deposition.
The judgment orders Cummins to pay $3 million in compensatory damages, $3 million in punitive damages and $176,700 in attorney fees and other money.
Cummins said she will appeal the verdict and cannot pay the award because she has “no money whatsoever.”