I wonder if former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler's use of the word "defamed" caused a little pause in the Christie administration.

"I will not accept being defamed by the governor for something he knows I did not do," Schundler said in his latest statement.

Defamation is what civil lawsuits for slander or libel are all about. Defamation has a very specific legal definition: It is a false statement of fact about someone that harms that person's reputation. If the person is a public figure, such as Schundler, one has to prove malice - that is, actual knowledge of the falsity of the statement or a reckless disregard for the truth.

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Gov. Chris Christie contends Schundler "misled" him about what happened at an interview in Washington with federal education officials, that he told Christie he corrected the state's wrong budget figures at the interview. That prompted Christie to go off on a tirade against federal bureaucrats that backfired when the video of the meeting was released. Schundler says he told Christie just the opposite and warned him NOT to make the statements the governor did. E-mails suggest Schundler did supply accurate information, although a lot depends on what was said verbally.

But Schundler has been very clear about this: He resents Christie calling him a liar, and believes that will affect his future employability.

Hmmm ... A false statement that harms a reputation? A reckless disregard for the truth? Actual damages?

I'm not saying Schundler is lawyering up. And this kind of lawsuit is difficult to win.

But I also don't think Schundler used the word "defamed" lightly.

This could get interesting ...


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