Australian NBA star Ben Simmons’ half-brother and manager has been awarded $550,000 in damages over baseless child abuse claims made against him by his half-sister.
Sean Tribe sued Olivia Simmons for defamation after she told her 12,000 Twitter followers in April Mr Tribe had sexually abused her from an early age.
The messages were repeated to millions when repeated on Facebook, Reddit and numerous media outlets in Australia and the United States.
“This was a very serious defamation,” Federal Court Justice Michael Lee said on Tuesday.
Unusually, in an effort to allow Ms Simmons to defend the case, the court forgave multiple breaches of procedure and arranged for her to receive a barrister’s services pro-bono.
But, still, no defence was filed, leading to a default judgment in Mr Tribe’s favour in August.
“It is unclear to me as to whether the tweets were the result of deliberate, purposeful fabrication in order to hurt (Mr Tribe) or were the product of some fantasy,” Justice Lee said.
“Despite every opportunity for the defence of substantial truth to be run, no attempt has been made to prove substantial truth and (Mr Tribe) is entitled to the vindication of the court, which must proceed on the basis the defamatory imputations were made without any basis in fact.”
Ms Simmons did not engage with Tuesday’s hearing, citing without further evidence that she had a medical appointment.
She has since deleted the account in which she made the false statements.
But the paucity of evidence of a withdrawal or abandonment of the “very serious allegations” left the court convinced it to order a permanent injunction forbidding Ms Simmons from repeating them or calling her brother a liar because he denies he sexually molested her.
The court was told that shortly after the tweets on April 10, Mr Tribe received a substantial number of abusive messages including one urging him to go to “jail then hell” and wondering “what you’re doing to your kid”.
“Rapist, coward, molester, pussy,” said the person behind cowboys_culture.
Finding Mr Tribe suffered a very high degree of subjective hurt, Justice Lee said it was “hardly surprising” Mr Tribe’s initial response of anger was quickly replaced with fear for his fiancee and their daughter.
Mr Tribe told the court he was “immediately kind of disgusted” when his stepfather confronted him in mid-March with Ms Simmons’ then-private allegation.
“I was completely put off guard. I didn’t expect a conversation like that to ever happen,” he said on Tuesday.
He later learned his half-sister was also alleging their mother was part of a sex trafficking ring and said Ms Simmons made “zero attempt” to contact him before tweeting in April.
Mr Tribe described his many emotions about the case, including anger, sadness and upset for the impact on him and his family.
“My concerns were that I look after Australia’s highest-earning athlete ever, and that my role with him is incredibly important because I am with him basically 24/7,” he told the court.
“I go where he goes. I’m seen where he’s seen. I talk to important people that have business to do with us and him and I believe that I am the representation of our family and Ben off the court, and that’s very important in what I do career wise.”
But the man described by family and colleagues as honest, affable and generous became reclusive and anxious following the tweets.
“Even to this day when I post online or say something, there is always someone commenting in relation to this case … in a negative way,” he said.
One witness in the Philadelphia basketball community spoke of his surprise at how many people approached him about the tweets, having heard about or seen them from a variety of sources.
The court was told Mr Tribe has no intention to take steps to have Ms Simmons pay the damages.