John Grisham Sued After Playing Private Detective For Friend

Posted on January 15, 2007

John Grisham is being sued for infliction of emotional distress by a woman that was accused of sending anonymous letters. The woman said she was held up to ridicult after Grisham played detective for his friend who was trying to find out who sent his wife anonymous letters.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled yesterday that John Grisham must face a jury for his actions in a real-life whodunit. Grisham, author of "The Pelican Brief," "The Firm" and "The Runaway Jury," among other bestsellers, lives outside Charlottesville. His son attended the private St. Anne's-Belfield School, where he played baseball for Alan Swanson, the head coach. Grisham and Swanson became friends, according to court papers, and Grisham is on the school's board of trustees.

In 1996, Swanson's wife, Donna Swanson, began receiving harassing anonymous letters, which included allegations that her husband was cheating on her, according to the ruling. Grisham also received an anonymous letter. In 1998, according to a lawsuit, "Grisham was intrigued by the idea of trying to 'get to the bottom' of who was writing them, and he decided to play amateur detective." Grisham and the Swansons targeted another St. Anne's parent, Katharine Almy of Charlottesville, who has three children.

Grisham and the Swansons took the letters to a handwriting expert, who told them that he needed more samples. Both sides agree that Grisham and Alan Swanson then obtained enrollment and medical release forms from the school filled out by Almy and stamped "strictly confidential." They provided the forms to the handwriting expert, who issued a report saying the letters "possibly" were written by Almy, the lawsuit states. Grisham provided the expert's report and the letters to the Albemarle County police, and a detective visited Almy. The lawsuit states that she was horrified that she was being investigated and repeatedly denied writing the letters. The detective reportedly told her to stop writing the letters. The lawsuit says that Almy provided handwriting samples to another examiner, who cleared her, and that she passed a polygraph test.

The author of the anonymous letters has never been found. The moral of this story is obvious: it may look like fun to play amateur detective, but it's probably better to leave these things to the professionals. Unless you don't mind getting sued by people you accuse of wrongdoing, of course.

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