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SYNDICATED COLUMN: After Charlottesville: If You Fire a Fascist, You Are a Fascist

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No one should get fired for his political beliefs.

Not even a Nazi.

I am disturbed by the news that some of the white nationalists who attended the violent “Unite the Right” hatefest in Charlottesville last weekend are being outted on social media. Attendees have been on the receiving end of threats and doxxing. It was reported that a restaurant worker in Berkeley was canned after he was exposed on Twitter.

Needless to say — it ought to be, anyway — I hate Nazis, Klansmen and the like. Their politics and values are exactly the opposite of mine. Still, no one should get fired for parading around with torches like it’s Germany in 1933.

This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Nothing in our outdated constitution prevents an employer from firing you on account of your politics. In 2004 an Alabama company even fired a woman for having a John Kerry for President bumpersticker on her car.

It is a free speech issue.

A business has the right to control its employees’ behavior in order to protect its image. Particularly in a liberal stronghold like Berkeley but anywhere really, no one wants a waiter wearing a swastika tattoo or spouting racist views. But if Top Dog restaurant can fire a racist dude for racist views he expresses thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to prevent Google from firing a software engineer for sexism — or you for whatever you happen to believe.

Firing a worker for their politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, McCarthyism is immoral and McCarthyism ought to be illegal.

As usual during episodes like this, many of my comrades on the left are gloating over what they see as righteous payback against violent, racist, anti-Semitic thugs. This makes me very uncomfortable, and not just because it feels more like the “human flesh search engine” online vigilantism that occurs in China than the United States, where the MYOB ethos ruled pre-Internet.

I don’t deny that this is personal. My political views have gotten me targeted by a cyberstalker/identity thief, fired by a publication over a cartoon that appeared elsewhere in another venue, and defamed by a newspaper as a favor to the local police chief who’d cozied up to the paper’s publisher. I’ve been working long enough to observe that what’s popular today gets censored tomorrow, and vice versa. Top Dog gets plaudits for firing a fascist; next time the victim could be a garden-variety Democrat.

“Historically it’s more dangerous as an employee to be associated with racial justice and the NAACP, than it was to be affiliated with the KKK,” notes Walter Greason, a historian and professor at Monmouth University.

A sign posted by Top Dog management reflects a common view: “We do respect our employees’ right to their opinions,” the sign read. “They are free to make their own choices, but must accept the responsibilities of those choices.” The question is, should those “responsibilities” include being deprived of a livelihood?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve read some variation of “You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.” Or, as Oli­ver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in 1891: “A employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

True, that’s the law. What I’m arguing is that free speech will always be meaningless until the constitution is amended. Workers should be protected from retribution for what they think and say.

We live in a capitalist society. Except for those born rich, we must work or else starve. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will employment. And jobs are hard to find. Under these conditions, without workplace free-speech protections, employees must think twice before they attend a rally, post a controversial memo, join a party or slap a bumpersticker on their vehicle. Are you willing to risk unemployment, poverty and perhaps homelessness — not just you, but also your spouse and children? If the answer is “yes,” God bless you. History is made by people like you.

For many others, though, the answer is “no, I can’t afford free speech.” The upsides of free expression are intangible while the downside risks are terrifyingly brutal. A 2016 Harris poll found that 33% of U.S. employees are afraid to talk about politics at work. Increasingly workers have to worry about losing their jobs as the result of talking about politics outside of work too.

The American workplace is a fascist state. It’s time to overthrow the millions of little Hitlers who think the fact that issuing a paycheck turns their employees into slaves subject to thought control.

Just don’t talk about this around anyone who knows where you work.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Hillary Wasn’t Classy Either

The reliably annoying David Brooks has a column today about how classless Donald Trump is. Thank you, Cap’n Obvious.

Checking out the comments section, I was struck by how many readers think that’s a reflection on we the people: that we chose him over her.

I think we’ve forgotten that Hillary wasn’t any classier than Trump.

Like Trump, she was a gross money-grubber, shaking down Goldman Sachs for $225,000 for hour-long speeches a couple years before starting her campaign…after she and Bill had already pocketed $100 million-plus.

Like Trump, she was all fake courage, like when she repeatedly bragged — another Trump personality trait — about her role in the assassination of bin Laden. That role? Sitting on her ass in a conference room, watching it on TV. Not to mention, political assassinations are illegal and un-American. In 1945, we arrested top Nazis and put them on trial, and we looked great back then. Oh, and the 9/11 victims still don’t get justice.

I remember when she cackled “we came, we saw, he died” to mock Moammar Ghaddafi. The Libyan ruler had just been sodomized to death on video after his convoy had been blown up by a U.S. drone. Classy!

One can argue that Hillary Clinton would have been a more competent president than Trump. But you can’t call her a classier person.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Obsession with Trump Shows Authoritarianism Has Arrived

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Bernie Sanders has joined the chorus of politicians and pundits who warn that the U.S. is sliding into authoritarianism under Trump. But he’s kind of wrong about how.

There are indeed reasons to worry that civilian and constitutional rule are giving way to institutional post-democracy. Trump’s cabinet and top White House staff contain enough military generals to give Pakistan a run for its money. Trump’s party controls both the House and Senate yet the president prefers to dash off executive orders rather than making the necessary effort to shepherd legislation through Congress. And of course there’s his police-state rhetoric, like when he “joked” that cops should bash their suspects’ heads into the sides of their squad cars.

But the most reliable indicator of looming authoritarianism can be found in the media, specifically in its obsession with the president.

A study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that 41% of all news stories during the president’s first 100 days were about Trump. That’s three times higher than any other president. Six months in, news outlets still devote hundreds of broadcast hours and thousands of words dissecting 100-character tweets Trump dashed off in seconds at four o’clock in the morning.

Trump has a lot on his plate: healthcare, tax reform, the border wall, Venezuela for some reason. But one story towers above all others in news coverage: the Russia-Trump connection. Fifty-five percent of all stories about Trump on TV network news since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel have been about the Russia probe, according to the conservative Media Research Center.

(Count me among the guilty: as a political cartoonist, it’s hard not to notice that images of Trump garner more clicks than those about climate change. Here I go again, right here in this column.)

Americans are divided along party lines. But Trump has brought us together in one respect: he’s making everyone feel anxious by creating a constant atmosphere of crisis.

The president’s Republican supporters are worried sick that a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy will force Trump out before he can carry out his promises. “BREAKING NEWS! WATCH: Top Republican Issues Warning About ‘Taking Out’ Trump – This Is Terrifying…. ” warns an email blast from TeaParty.org. From the same email: “Establishment RINOs just teamed up with the bloodthirsty Democrats to betray their constituents and keep Obamacare – the DISASTER that is destroying he [sic] lives of millions of Americans.”

            These emails hit in boxes of Republican voters at an hourly rate. Here’s another:Within the darkest, dankest bowels of our government, the Leftist Deep State has nursed its wounds and regathered its might. They’re preparing for another surprise attack. The highest Deep State archons have gone absolutely berserk with gnashing, fist-bleeding, spit-flinging rage.” Terrifying! Given how much effort goes into working them up, it’s amazing how few gun owners go on a shooting spree.

Liberals are going crazy too. “Get Organized to Drive Out the Fascist Trump/Pence Regime. In the Name of Humanity — We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!” urges an email from RefuseFascism.org. “We’re in a crucial moment in history, when the danger of a full-out fascist regime, as we have analyzed, threatens the people all over the world and the planet itself as a viable place for humans and other species to thrive and survive.” Even the bugs are doomed!

No false equivalence here — I’m an unapologetic leftie. The point I’m making here is, everyone is obsessed with Trump, not just the media. And that obsession is a strong clue that the authoritarian era may already be underway.

For 15 years the global embodiment of authoritarian rule was Turkmenistan under former Soviet strongman Saparmurat Niyazov. Like Trump, Niyazov was a quirky megalomaniac who routinely issued executive orders on everything from grandiose construction projects (a vast manmade lake in the world’s hottest desert) to the mundane (a ban on chewing tobacco, ejecting dogs from the capital because of their “unappealing odor”).

Like other visitors to Turkmenistan, I was struck by the ubiquity of Niyazov’s image on currency stamps, statues and posters. But what really made an impression on me was how carefully the Turkmen people studied his every move, both literally and figuratively.

Whenever Niyazov’s motorcade left the presidential palace, the police shut down most streets in Ashkhabat. Motorists carefully tracked his schedule to avoid getting stuck in traffic — or arrested. Because college applicants knew that the president personally reviewed their applications, savvy students sprinkled their essays with quotes from the leader’s book, the Ruhnama. When the Father of All Turkmen let his hair go from dyed to white back to black again, countless thousands of his hapless subjects felt it wise to follow suit.

As in the U.S., where leftist opposition increasingly focuses against the person of Donald J. Trump (as opposed to the systemic oppressions of capitalism and militarism), political opposition in Turkmenistan was directed against Niyazov, the center of the nation’s personality cult. En route to my hotel, my taxi driver pulled over to toss his saved-up household trash over the fence surrounding the presidential palace. Judging from the lawn, he wasn’t the only one.

Prisoners will tell you that serving time safely requires a close watch on guards’ mood swings and shift changes. Survival is part of human nature; studying those with power of life or death over you is key to survival in situations where individual rights are slim to nonexistent.

The U.S government has become increasingly violent, intrusive and capricious since 9/11, brazenly listening to our calls and reading our emails and generally treating individual rights like quaint relics of the past. Obama announced his right to drone-kill Americans on American soil; he and now Trump are even deporting U.S. citizens. The erratic nature of Trump’s personality and policy prescriptions have amplified the sense that Americans, like the Turkmen, had better pay close attention to the man in charge if they want to survive.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: L.A. Times Lawyer to Court: “This is Not a Case About Quote/Unquote Truth”

Every defendant is entitled to a vigorous defense. That’s a basic principle of Western jurisprudence.

My belief in that precept was sorely tested by oral arguments in my defamation and wrongful termination case against The Los Angeles Times. It’s one thing for a lawyer to represent a distasteful client like the Times, whose crooked top management sold out its readers to the Los Angeles Police Department in a secret backroom deal. But when framing facts turns into outright lying in court, count me out.

I have great new lawyers. On July 14th, however, I was “between lawyers” because my previous ones had just dumped me and the scorched-earth Times defense team refused to grant me a delay so my new attorneys could get up to speed. So I was forced to represent myself pro se against a senior partner with three decades of experience as a courtroom litigator.

“Since the beginning of this case,” I opened, “the defense has tried to make this a complicated case about technicalities. In fact, it’s actually a very simple case.”

I went on to explain how, after a spotless six-year record as the paper’s cartoonist, the Times received a static-filled audio recording of unknown provenance from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Beck claimed the CD-R showed I’d lied in a blog post when I wrote that I was mistreated by a LAPD cop who’d arrested me for jaywalking.

I continued: “In fact, the audio did not show anything of the kind. In fact, the audio was obviously never listened to, because if they had, even if nothing else had happened, they would have been able to, in a quiet room with headphones, they would have been able to hear people arguing with the police officer. They would have heard phrases along the lines of, ‘Take them off. Take off his handcuffs,’ that sort of thing. The Times rushed to judgment. They operated extremely recklessly, negligently. They did not investigate the audio. They did not give me any benefit of the doubt whatsoever even though the doubt was 100 percent.”

Times lawyer Kelli Sager was unimpressed.

She is paid to be unimpressed.

“So Mr. Rall has repeated a lot of the stuff that’s in the [filing] papers. But as we said in our reply [motion] and as the court ruled on the individual defendants’ motion already, this is not a case about, quote/unquote, ‘truth.’”

Um…what?

I am so naïve. We were in a courtroom. If the truth — sorry, the quote/unquote ‘truth’ — doesn’t matter in a court, what does?

The Times’ answer: technicalities. Bear in mind, the Times is a newspaper. Their job is to print the truth.
“That’s not the argument that we made in the SLAPP motion [stet], whether or not the statements that he’s complaining about were true or not,” Sager continued. “The Fair Report Privilege doesn’t need the court to adjudicate the truth. The Fair Report Privilege looks at whether the gist and sting of what the articles reported were from records of the LAPD statements made by people in the LAPD that were official statements and so forth.”

Translation of the Times’ defense: It doesn’t matter if the Times published lies and refused to retract. Under California’s anti-SLAPP law — which is abused by deep-pocketed corporations so they can libel poor individuals with impunity — the Times can write whatever it wants as long as it generalizes about something a policeman said in a police record. This, of course, ignores the existence of defamation and libel statutes.

Sager went on: “Whether the Times had a good motive or bad motive is irrelevant under the law.”

Not really. The Times claims that I am a public figure. If the court agrees, Sullivan v. New York Times, the 1964 case that redefined defamation law, would be pertinent: “The Court held that the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity).” When the Times published its two pieces about me, they knew that what they were publishing (that their audio showed I was a liar) was false and they didn’t care. Motive matters.

Oh, the lies! Like when Sager said: “So there is no dispute that the records came from the LAPD.”

An hour earlier, in the same hearing, in front of Sager, I had said:

“I dispute that these records were officially released by the LAPD. There is a declaration by the investigative reporter Greg Palast in that giant pile of paper next to you in which he says that he contacted the public information office of the LAPD and in no uncertain terms they denied ever having released the documents and the audio. And in fact, that they’re still in the evidence room over at the LAPD. So what we have here is a case of conflation; a cases of many lies of omission, some lies of commission. But one of the big lies of omission is that the L.A. Times is trying to pretend that Chief Beck is the LAPD. And that is no more true than President Trump is the United States government. The official records have never been released.”

How could she say there was no dispute?

Sager couldn’t argue the facts. So she pretended the facts didn’t exist.

You can read the whole transcript here.
You can support my fight for free speech here.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Roger Lowenstein Will Represent Me Against the Los Angeles Times

I am happy to announce that storied litigator Roger Lowenstein will represent me in my lawsuit against The Los Angeles Times.

Assuming that my case survives the Times’ anti-SLAPP motions at the Court of Appeals level, Roger will handle the subsequent trial at Los Angeles Superior Court.

Roger will work alongside appellate attorney Jeffrey Lewis, whose representation I announced previously, at the appeals stage.

Confused? It’s supposed to be confusing!

Appellate courts are discrete from the “regular” trial courts. They have their own appellate courts and there are attorneys who only handle the appellate stage.

The regular trial court stage of anti-SLAPP is complete in my case. (We continue to await the court’s decision on two out of three of the Times’ anti-SLAPP motions.)

Next comes the Court of Appeals stage of anti-SLAPP. Jeff and Roger will work together on that.

If I make it past the appellate level of anti-SLAPP, we prepare for trial with discovery, subpoenas, etc. Roger will work as counsel there.

If there’s a verdict and an appeal, that would go back to the Court of Appeals, and then perhaps to the California State Supreme Court, and then maybe even SCOTUS.

I would prefer a quick resolution to this matter. So far, however, the Times seems completely unwilling to consider admitting that they screwed up in my case. Instead of doing the right thing and issuing a retraction and giving me back my job, they’re continuing to libel me with every second that those two libelous articles stay online, and fighting tooth and nail with a zillion ridiculous legal gambits — because they certainly can’t rely on the truth to help with their defense. So I’m prepared for this to go on a long time.

I hope I count on your support.

If you’d like to help defray my massive court costs and travel expenses — which I pay out-of-pocket — please contribute to my GoFundMe or support my work via Patreon.

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Rall v. LA Times: Read the Complete Transcript of Ted Rall Arguing Pro Se vs. the LA Times’ Top Litigator

As promised, I am making available here the complete hearing transcript of the July 14th hearing in which I was forced to represent myself pro se because the LA Times refused to give my new lawyer a continuance/delay so he could familiarize myself with my case.

Quick recap: I was the LA Times’ editorial cartoonist from 2009 to 2015. I drew lots of comics criticizing the police and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Having had enough of me and my cartoons, Beck asked the new publisher, a political ally, to fire me. The Times complied. They used a mostly-blank audio recording to say it didn’t back up one of my blogs, and published two articles characterizing me as a liar. A cleaned-up version of the audio showed I’d told the truth. The Times refused to retract or hire me back, so I sued.

The July 14th hearing was for a pair of anti-SLAPP motions filed by the Times in an attempt to get my case dismissed as frivolous and force me to pay their attorney’s fees. I was between lawyers — my previous firm had dumped me and my new ones were just coming on board — but Times litigator Kelli Sager refused a delay. So I did the oral arguments myself.

I was terrified. Read on:

Ted Rall v. Los Angeles Times (anti-SLAPP hearing), 7/14/17 by Ted Rall on Scribd

There were three anti-SLAPP motions in all. On June 21st my esrtwhile lawyer borked oral arguments on the individual defendants so badly the judge ruled against me from the bench right there and then. July 14th was the main event: motion #2 for the LA Times/Tronc and motion #3 for Tribune Media.

At this writing the court has not issued its ruling on #2 or #3.

What do you think?

How would you rule if you were the judge?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Democrats Are a Lost Cause

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There they go again.

Hillary was a two time loser. Weirdly, her people are still in charge of the Democratic Party. Clintonista militant moderates haven’t learned a thing from Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump — so they’re trying to sell Democratic voters on more of the same.

Remember what happened when Hillary ran on “never mind your crappy low wage job, vote for me because ‘first woman president'”? Now we’re supposed to get excited about center-right California Senator Kamala Harris because she ticks off two boxes on the identity politics hit parade.

Remember the ugly optics when Bill and Hillary took their excellent fundraising adventure to the Hamptons? Kamala 2020 is already doing the same thing.

Remember how well it worked out when Hillary snubbed Bernie and insulted his progressive supporters, then ran a tack-to-the-right general-election campaign that targeted Republicans who were never going to vote for her? Here comes Kamala with rhetoric that makes her sound like a Rand Paul Republican: “I agree we must be talking about wasteful spending in our country…we must be talking about tax reform.” Also lots o’ tasty “tough on crime” (since she’s black it can’t possibly be the racist dog whistle it sounds like).

The DNC is still partying like it’s 1999: Third Way/DLC/center-right triangulation is king. Dick Morris, call Kamala.

Memo to the Dumocrats: Trump’s polls are in the toilet. Still, Trump (or, if Trump gets impeached, Pence) might beat the Dems again in 2020. “Double haters” — voters who hated Trump and Clinton — were a deciding factor in 2016, accounting for “3% to 5% of the 15 million voters across 17 battleground states,” according to political author Joshua Green. They broke for Trump.

They — and Bernie voters snubbed by Hillary who sat home on election day — cost Hillary the 2016 election.

To be fair, some establishment Democrats know how to count. “American families deserve a better deal so that this country works for everyone again, not just the elites and special interests. Today, Democrats will start presenting that better deal to the American people,” Chuck Schumer wrote in The New York Times yesterday.

Sounds great. So what exactly is in Chuck’s stillborn (Republican president, Republican House, Republican Senate) Better Deal?

“Rules to stop prescription drug price gouging… allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers… giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs.”

These are good ideas.

But they’re so small.

If enacted, the Dems’ Better Deal wouldn’t do a thing about the problems that afflict most voters.

The #1 problem is the economy. There aren’t enough jobs. The jobs there are don’t pay enough. Bosses have too much power over workers.

A massive new WPA-like program, in which the federal government hires millions of Americans to rebuild our crumbled infrastructure, would create jobs. A $25/hour minimum wage — that’s about what it would be if raises had kept up with inflation — would guarantee that a full-time job yields full-time pay. Abolishing America’s inhuman, archaic “at-will” employment, which gives employers the right to fire you without a good reason, would restore balance to labor-management relations. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will.

The #2 problem is healthcare. Attempts by Republicans to repeal Obamacare have made the ACA more popular than ever. Most Democrats want single-payer, where the government pays for healthcare — why doesn’t the Democratic Party?

The answer, of course, is that the party leadership is owned by Wall Street, the Fortune 500 and big-monied special interests in general. Figures like Harris and Schumer and Clinton will never give the people what we want and need because their masters will never allow it. The question for us is, when do we stop giving them our votes — and start organizing outside the dead-end of the electoral duopoly?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer

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For a cartoonist, I turned out to be a fairly decent lawyer. But I didn’t want to represent myself. It took two vicious lawyers to force me into that position.

One of those lawyers was mine.

I’m suing the Times because they repeatedly, knowingly and intentionally defamed me after firing me as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, a thin-skinned pol I’d criticized in my editorial cartoons. The paper responded by turning California’s “anti-SLAPP” law, designed to protect people like me against corporations like the Times and its parent company Tronc, on its head; this $400 million corporation is accusing me — a five-figure income cartoonist — of oppressing its First Amendment rights by using my vast wealth to intimidate them.

Before my case is allowed to begin in earnest, anti-SLAPP requires a plaintiff (me) to convince a judge that, if everything I allege in my lawsuit turns out to be true, I’d likely win before a trial jury. But anti-SLAPP is as confusing as French grammar, so many judges interpret the law much more harshly than it’s actually written.

All the lawyers I talked to told me that I’d almost certainly win at trial if my case survived anti-SLAPP and made it to a jury. Ironically, getting past anti-SLAPP would be our toughest challenge.

The lawyer who took my case agreed with this assessment. But when oral arguments for the first of the Times’ three anti-SLAPPs against me took place on June 21st in LA Superior Court, his firm inexplicably assigned a junior associate, Class of 2013, to take on Kelli Sager.

Kelli Sager, who represents the Times, is a high-powered attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience, a senior partner at Davis Tremaine Wright, an international law firm that represents giant corporations.

I liked my junior associate. She’s smart and may someday become a great lawyer. But she was no match for a shark like Kelli Sager. Sager talked over her. My lawyer let Sager get away with one brazen lie after another, either too unprepared or timid to respond. She couldn’t even answer the judge’s simple question to walk him through what happened to prompt my lawsuit.

It was a rout. Sager was eloquent and aggressive. My lawyer couldn’t begin to articulate my case, much less sway the judge. I lost that round.

Determined not to lose the all-important important hearing number two, against the Times and Tronc, I asked my law firm to meet for a strategy session. Bafflingly, they refused to confer or to send a more senior litigator to the next one. Another defeat was guaranteed.

Then my firm fired me — days before that key anti-SLAPP hearing. I had no idea that was even a thing, that that could happen.

I swear — it wasn’t me. I was professional and polite every step of the way. I have no idea why they left me hanging.

Normally in such situations, legal experts told me, the court grants a “continuance,” legalese for a delay, to give me time to look for a new attorney and allow him or her to familiarize themselves with the case. But it helps a lot if the opposing side says they’re OK with it.

A continuance is typically freely granted, even during the most ferocious legal battles. After all, you might be the one with a family emergency or whatever next time.

But Kelli Sager smelled blood. Figuring I’d be easier to defeat without legal representation, she fought ferociously against my requests for a continuance. Thus came about the following absurdity:

I found a new lawyer. But he needed a few weeks to get up to speed. True to her standard scorched-earth approach to litigation, Sager refused to grant me the courtesy of a continuance. So I was forced to rep myself in pro per (that’s what they call pro se in California) on July 14th.

My heart was pounding as I approached the plaintiff’s table, standing parallel to Sager. And I’m an experienced speaker! I’ve held my own on FoxNews. I’ve spoken to audiences of hundreds of people. I’ve hosted talk-radio shows. Yet dropping dead of a heart attack felt like a real possibility. I can’t imagine what this would feel like for someone unaccustomed to arguing in public.

The judge asked me to proceed. I nervously worked from prepared notes, explaining why my case wasn’t a “SLAPP” (a frivolous lawsuit I didn’t intend to win, filed just to harass the Times), that the anti-SLAPP law didn’t apply. I attacked the Times’ argument that their libelous articles were “privileged” (allowed) under anti-SLAPP because they were merely “reporting” on “official police records” about my 2001 jaywalking arrest.

If they’d been “reporting,” the articles would have had to follow the Times’ Ethical Guidelines, which ban anonymous sources, require careful analysis of evidence and calling subjects of criticism for comment. They didn’t come close. These weren’t news stories or even opinion pieces; they were hit jobs.

I explained that the records weren’t official at all, the LAPD denied releasing Beck’s unprovenanced audio, which differed from the official one at LAPD HQ. Much of the discussion was about legal minutiae rather than the broad strokes of what my case is about: I wrote a blog for latimes.com, the Times edited it and posted it, Chief Beck gave the Times a blank audio they said showed I’d lied about what I wrote, I had the audio cleaned up and it showed I’d told the truth, rather than issue a retraction when they found out they were wrong the Times refused to change their behavior and continued to insist I’d lied.

There’s also the big picture: if a newspaper’s parent company sells its stock to the police, and that newspaper’s publisher is a crony of the police chief who accepts awards from the police union, how can readers trust that newspaper not to suppress criticism of the police? Do Black Lives really Matter if investigations of police brutality don’t always make it to print, if writers and cartoonists have learned they can get fired and libeled if they annoy the cops?

I will soon receive a transcript of the hearing. I will post it at Rall.com.

Sager’s counterargument boiled down to: newspapers can publish anything they want, even lies, because the First Amendment protects free speech — as if libel and defamation law don’t exist.

Her defense for the Times was not that I lied. The audio makes clear that I didn’t. Her defense, the defense for a newspaper, was that the truth doesn’t matter.

Arguments ran over two hours.

On June 21st the judge ruled against my erstwhile lawyer directly from the bench.

On July 14th, I at least gave the judge something to think about. He took the matter “under consideration.”

I await his decision.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Appellate Lawyer Jeffrey Lewis Will Represent Me vs. LA Times

As the anti-SLAPP stage of my case heads toward California’s Court of Appeals, I am happy to report that First Amendment warrior and appellate attorney Jeffrey Lewis of Broedlow Lewis LLP will be representing me in the fight against the corrupt LA Times and its collusion with LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck, and for free speech and independent journalism.

Join the fight: click here.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99%

Image result for court fees expensive            I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and boys will be girls”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocketed plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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