(Reuters) - A judge will decide this week which court will hear a lawsuit against filmmaker Spike Lee over a tweet that misidentified an elderly couple’s address in Florida as the home of George Zimmerman.
Less than a month before the tweet was posted, Zimmerman, a white, Hispanic neighborhood watch captain, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager walking in his Sanford, Florida, housing complex.
Elaine McClain, 72, filed the lawsuit in Florida state court this fall, claiming Oscar-nominated director Lee encouraged “a dangerous mob mentality” when he tweeted her address to 240,000 followers.
On March 23, 2012, Lee tweeted, “George Zimmerman...” followed by the address of McClain and her husband. A lawyer for McClain said the mother of seven, who is also a great grandmother, lives about 15 miles away from Zimmerman.
On July 13 Zimmerman was acquitted of the shooting that sparked international outrage amid critics’ claims it was racially motivated.
Lee moved for the case be tried in federal district court in Orlando on the basis that the damages sought meet the minimum to be tried in a federal court, but a magistrate judge recommended last week the case be kept in state court.
It is up to U.S. District Court Judge John Antoon in Orlando to decide this week where the legal battle will take place.
Neither Lee’s attorney nor spokesman could immediately be reached for comment.
After Lee posted his initial tweet, McClain said in the lawsuit, her address was retweeted by Lee’s followers with menacing messages like, “Let the PURGE BEGIN,” and “LETS THROW THE BRO A SURPRISE PARTY! *LOADS GUN*”.
The McClains accepted a settlement on March 29, in which Lee apologized and paid Elaine McClain and her husband $10,000, court documents said.
But the McClains said that is not enough. The couple continues to receive death threats, was forced to stay at a hotel during Zimmerman’s trial, and has been unable to sell the house, according to their lawsuit.
Julia Young, a Florida plaintiff’s lawyer representing the McClains, said the terms of the settlement do not prevent them from taking legal action.
The couple is seeking unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.
Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Richard Chang