Can A Bankruptcy Judge Order Casey Anthony To Remain Silent About Her Story?

March 16th, 2013

Get this. Some guy is offering Casey Anthony $10,000 to NEVER talk about her daughter’s death again. Under normal circumstances, Anthony would be free to take or reject this offer, which is aimed to “prevent Ms. Anthony or others from publishing or profiting from her story in the future.”

But, this isn’t a normal case. Anthony owes nearly $800,000 to creditors, and is in the middle of a bankruptcy case. Could a court order Anthony to accept this payment?

The $10k seems like a small price, as Anthony could probably make more from a tell-all book, but what happened if someone offered $1,000,000 to settle all of her debts, if she would just STFU.

I know nothing about bankruptcy law, but this seems like a fascinating intersection of creditor law and the First Amendment.

Update: A commenter links to this post from a Bankruptcy blog:

A quick post to announce that intellectual property scholar Jennifer Rothman has just published an article that engages with the bankruptcy treatment of the “right of publicity.” Painting with the broadest brush, the piece questions the alienability of an identity-holder’s right of publicity more generally, and concludes creditors should not be entitled to “own (or control)” a debtor’s right of publicity (p.236). For the bankruptcy and commercial lawyers reading this post, or courts confronting questions of creditor entitlement to a debtor’s right of publicity, the article contains references to recent court decisions of potential relevance (pp. 199-200) in addition to important arguments on these questions. According to Rothman, there still is no published caselaw explicitly holding that creditors are entitled to the value of a bankruptcy filer’s right of publicity. (If Credit Slips readers know of examples that did not result in published decisions, I would welcome a comment below, or a note to [email protected]).

Once upon a time, Diane Zimmerman and I offered a different assessment at the annual meeting of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges and in a resulting article. We did not celebrate the state law treatment of the right of publicity as an alienable property interest. But, taking the world as it existed, we concluded that the right of publicity should be treated as an asset in the rightholder’s bankruptcy and that, on balance, it probably shouldn’t be protected by an exemption. Our analysis elicited a range of reactions, including a handful of queries from creditors of famous people, lawyerly whispers in the ear to explain the reluctance of creditors to raise this issue, and a critique by the late Harvard professor David Westfall and co-author David Landau,who has since joined the legal academy. But, back to Rothman’s thesis, I am sympathetic to the notion that an identity-holder’s rights of publicity should be conceptualized as less alienable all around, which in turn would affect the bankruptcy and debtor-creditor calculus.