Tag Archives: anti-SLAPP

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Media Companies Are Abusing Anti-SLAPP Laws to Publish Fake News with Impunity

Image result for national enquirer richard simmons

The National Enquirer and Radar Online published a series of news stories that reported that Richard Simmons, the fitness instructor and TV personality, was transitioning to become a woman. “Richard Simmons: He’s Now a Woman,” read an Enquirer headline.

He’s not.

The Enquirer lied about Simmons. So he sued.

Seems like a straightforward case of libel. Yet, insanely, thanks to California’s constitutionally dubious, nonsensical “anti-SLAPP” statute, a judge has ordered him — a bona fide victim of “fake news” — to pay the Enquirer $122,000. The miscarriage of justice in Simmons’ case is worth thinking about as well-intentioned progressives try to defend the Fourth Estate from toxic smears by President Trump.

Proposals like a federal “shield” law to protect journalists and their sources could help shore up the First Amendment. But the current push for a national anti-SLAPP law like the one that slammed Simmons is woefully misguided and would only bolster Trump’s argument that the media publishes lies with impunity.

Simmons, a gay icon who calls himself “an avid supporter of the LGBTQ community,” sued the media outlets for libel in Los Angeles. Simmons presented key evidence, an Enquirer document indicating that the newspaper could not rely on its source for the Simmons transgender story, his former assistant.

The landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case Sullivan v. New York Times established a standard that, in order to prove libel, a public figure such as Simmons must show that the defendants either knew a story was false at the time of publication, or that they had reckless disregard for the truth. Simmons seems to have the makings of a successful case on both counts.

Simmons says he sued because the stories violated his privacy and falsely portrayed him as someone he’s not. Also, given that as many as one out of four Americans are uncomfortable with and/or actually despise transgender people, it would not be unreasonable for Simmons to worry that he might lose business as a result.

Twenty-eight states have anti-SLAPP (“strategic lawsuit against public participation”) laws. They’re presented as a way for a poor individual or whistleblower to defend themselves from deep-pocketed corporations. The reality is a classic case study in unforeseen consequences: poorly-written, confusing anti-SLAPP laws are routinely abused by giant media outlets so they can avoid being held accountable for reckless smears and to send a chilling message to victims who seek redress in the courts.

The assumption behind anti-SLAPP appears to have originated during the Reagan-era “tort reform” movement. Courts, conservatives claimed, were clogged by frivolous lawsuits filed by giant companies. In 1996, for example, Texas cattlemen sued talk host Oprah Winfrey under the state’s “veggie libel” law for saying that she’d stop eating burgers. But there is no statistical evidence that the problem, if it exists at all, is widespread or can’t typically be disposed of by the standard litigation tactic of filing a motion for summary judgment.

In states like California, a libel or defamation defendant like the National Enquirer can file an anti-SLAPP motion as soon as it receives a lawsuit. Discovery stops. Plaintiffs aren’t allowed to subpoena documents or depose witnesses. A judge reads the legal complaint, assumes everything the plaintiff says is true and everything the defendant says is false and, based on those assumptions, assesses whether the case has minimal merit. If so, the anti-SLAPP motion is denied and the case moves forward.

If not, the case is thrown out of court and the plaintiff is ordered to pay the defendant’s attorneys’ fees. (The supreme courts of Minnesota and Washington have declared anti-SLAPP laws unconstitutional because they violate plaintiff’s right to a jury trial.)

That’s what happened to Richard Simmons. He is appealing.

Anti-SLAPP laws rely on a flawed theory. In reality, deep-pocketed interest groups like the cattlemen who sued Oprah aren’t deterred by the potential expense of having to pay the defendant’s legal fees. Moreover, the statutes are extremely confusing, featuring more exceptions to exceptions than French grammar. Moreover, anti-SLAPP asks judges to act against their very nature; for example, judges are not supposed to assess the evidence, but simply take everything the plaintiff says at face value. In case after case, judges simply can’t help themselves.

Judges are gonna judge.

Which is how Simmons, the gay icon, wound up on the hook for $122,000, forced to pay a newspaper that lied about him, that oppressed him, that common sense says owes him an apology and a retraction, as a martyr to transgender rights. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Keosian ruled that Simmons falsely being declared a woman did not expose him to “hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy,” so no more defamation occurred than if they had falsely described the color of his clothes.

“While, as a practical matter, the characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them,” Keosian ruled.

If Simmons loses his appeal, California’s Court of Appeals will order him to pay the publications even more money.

To most people, Simmons’ case is a mere judicial curio. Not for me. I’ve taken an interest in anti-SLAPP laws since 2016. That was when the Los Angeles Times, defended by the same lawyers as the National Enquirer, filed a California anti-SLAPP motion against me. I had sued the Times for defaming me in a pair of articles they ran as a favor to the Los Angeles Police Department, which I had criticized as the paper’s editorial cartoonist, by falsely accusing me of lying and fabulism.

Like the judge in Simmons’ case, Judge Joseph Kalin failed to follow the letter of the anti-SLAPP statute. He ignored the minimal-merit standard. In his decision, he stated that the facts in the case were in my favor, not the Times. Nevertheless, he ruled against me using logic counter to the anti-SLAPP law and awarded the Times and their lawyers — the party that victimized me — $350,000. I am appealing too.

In both these cases and countless others, wealthy media conglomerates are shaking off cases that deserve their day in court before a jury, and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time from plaintiffs victimized by brazen journalistic malfeasance. Media companies might be winning in courthouses — but they’re getting clobbered in the court of public opinion.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)

Ted Rall vs. LA Times: Here’s Rall’s Appellate Brief Challenging the Times’ Nasty, Abusive “anti-SLAPP” Motions

Yesterday my attorneys filed, and California’s Court of Appeals accepted, our Appellate Brief in my defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times et al.

I sued in 2015. The Times filed three anti-SLAPP motions against me, halting the case because they’re scared of facing a jury and want to intimidate me. In 2017 a lower-court judge ruled for the Times, ordering me to pay them $350,000 in the Times’ attorneys fees. This document is our appeal of the 2017 decision.

If successful, the $350,000 judgement will be vacated and I can build my case to take to a jury.

If not, the $350,000 stands, plus more fees for the Times defense of this appeal. And my case dies. And Californians who work for media companies will have no recourse in the courts if their employer discriminates against them, even if they do so for racist or sexist or homophobic reasons.

Please read our brief below; it’s an interesting read. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions. Thank you for your incredible support!

 

Ted Rall vs. Los Angeles Times: anti-SLAPP Appellate Brief by Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Grey Wall of Silence: Trump Is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws

Image result for newspaper libel laws

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” Donald Trump said recently. “And if somebody says something that’s totally false and knowingly false, that the person that has been abused, defamed, libeled, will have meaningful recourse.”

Yes, Trump is a jerk.

True, he himself is the Slanderer-in-Chief.

Granted, he’s a bit of a fascist.

Pertinently, libel laws are state laws. Neither the president nor Congress can change them.

But even an authoritarian hypocrite is right sometimes. And Trump is dead right that the nation’s libel laws are “a sham and a disgrace.”

My defamation lawsuit against The Los Angeles Times is a case study. (I’ve written about the merits of my case elsewhere. Here, I ask you to simply consider the process of lodging a complaint and taking it to a jury to consider. My question is this: should suing be this difficult?)

Bear in mind: the timeline in my case is typical.

The Times published an article announcing my firing in July 2015. After their excuse for my firing fell apart, they published a second piece “reaffirming” their decision in August 2015. Two and a half years later, we haven’t even begin discovery — and I’ll be lucky to get in front of a jury before 2020.

Justice delayed is justice denied. So what’s taking so long? Part of the problem is California’s understaffed, overworked court system. But mostly it’s the fact that newspapers have rigged the legal system against plaintiffs.

In California, for example, media companies lobbied the legislature to pass Civil Code 48(a). Under 48(a), you have to serve written notice to a newspaper that they’ve libeled you within 20 days of the initial publication. What if you’re off fishing for three weeks? Too bad — you can’t sue. What if you hear about the libelous article more than 20 days later? Again, you have no recourse.

What if you’ve never heard of the law? You’re like most people — and you’ve got no case, no matter what they wrote about you.

California is one of 28 states to have an “anti-SLAPP” law. According to proponents, there are wealthy individuals and companies who file nuisance lawsuits against defendants, not to win but to tie the poor defendants up in court and force them to hire expensive lawyers to defend themselves.

Assuming abusive lawsuits are actually a problem (there’s no evidence of this), the “solution” created by anti-SLAPP laws is ridiculous on its face. A defendant files an anti-SLAPP motion that, if successful, gets said frivolous lawsuit thrown out of court and forces the rich abusive plaintiff to pay the poor defendant’s legal fees. But…the operative word here is “rich.” If you’re rich and out to screw over a poor defendant, why would the risk of incurring some extra fees deter you?

Here’s where things get really crazy. I consulted with numerous attorneys who told me I’d probably beat the Times if I ever got in front of a jury. Getting past anti-SLAPP, they said, would be the tough hurdle. But the anti-SLAPP law is only supposed to kill frivolous lawsuits. Then how can it be that, in the opinion of numerous experienced lawyers, my case — which they think would probably win — could be defeated by an anti-SLAPP motion? Because anti-SLAPP law is so complicated that many judges don’t understand it and rule in favor of anti-SLAPP motions when they ought to reject them.

Some states have ruled anti-SLAPP laws unconstitutional because they deny plaintiffs their right to a jury trial. But not California. Not yet.

Lawyers I talked to in L.A. liked my case but were so cowed by anti-SLAPP that it took me months to find one willing to represent me. Finally, I filed suit in March 2016.

As predicted, the Times filed a set of anti-SLAPP motions against me. Then they invoked an obviously unconstitutional section of the California Code, 1030(a), that is so obscure that few attorneys or bond companies had heard of it, one that required me to post a cash (i.e., 100% of value) bond just to continue my case. The reason? I reside outside of California. The Times demanded $300,000. The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Thanks to appalled readers, I raised the money via crowdfunding. What would someone without a media mouthpiece do if they had to come up with 75 grand just to stay in court? They’d probably have to drop their case.

Hearings on the anti-SLAPPs took place in July 2017. It had been two years since the Times published their lies about me: two years without discovery, two years during which key witnesses might die or move away, two years during which the Times could destroy evidence.

Even though lower-court judge agreed that “the enhanced tape establishes his [Rall’s] recounting of the incident was accurate” — i.e., I told the truth, the Times lied when they said I didn’t, thus the Times defamed me — he ruled against me, awarding the Times about $350,000 in legal fees at my expense.

Go figure.

Anti-SLAPP is automatically appealable, so the next step is the Court of Appeals. We submit our appeal brief. The Times replies. We reply to their reply. The court sets a hearing date. If all goes well, that’ll happen some time this year. If the appellate judges rule in my favor, we finally begin discovery — in 2019-ish.

Four years after the crime. Four years for the trail to go from cold to stone-cold.

If and when I get to my actual trial, then — just maybe — print-media journalists will break their Grey Wall of Silence and report on my case. If and when that happens, though, I’m sure they’ll manage to characterize me as an abusive plaintiff trying to curtail the First Amendment rights of the pure-as-virgin-snow Los Angeles Times.

Trump can’t and won’t do anything to address our ridiculous libel laws. Which is really really #sad.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Ted Rall v. LA Times et al. – Lawsuit Update

Remember this the next time someone tells you it’s too easy to file a lawsuit in American courts. We need tort reform, but not to make it harder. It needs to become easier to seek justice!

As I wrote earlier, a judge in LA Superior Court ruled against me in the first round of anti-SLAPP motions filed against me by the LA Times. The Times is deploying anti-SLAPP — a law promoted as a way to protect whistleblowers and critics against wealthy corporations — against me because I am suing them for defamation and wrongful termination. (This was after they falsely claimed I had lied about being roughed up by an LAPD police officer in the course of a jaywalking arrest, and continued to lie after I used their own evidence to prove it. The Times and its publisher had a close financial and political relationship with the LAPD, which I had repeatedly criticized in my cartoons.)

On November 20 the ethics-impaired LA Times — terrified that my case might someday be heard before a jury of my peers — continued its scorched-earth litigation tactics and asked a judge to issue a judgement against me for about $350,000 of the Times’ legal fees. The fees included Times lawyer Kelli Sager’s $705/hour fee, which she described as “discounted.” It also included fees for preparing the anti-SLAPP motions themselves, which violated court rules by running 27+ pages instead of the allowed 15, and a previous judge threw out of court.

The Times also requested that I be forced to post an “appeals bond” equal to 1.5 times the value of the award, thus amounting to about $525,000. That bond would have to be posted in cash; in other words, I would need to send a bonding company 100% ($525,000) to post the bond in order to continue my case.

Remember: the Times is the defendant! They wronged me, not the other way around.

The judge ruled in the Times’ favor.

Corporate media takes care of its own, so I do not expect much solidarity from my fellow inked-stained wretches.

Rall v. LA Times: Now They Want Me To Pay Them $340,000

Hi, hope you’re enjoying the fall weather!
Here’s the latest on Rall v. LA Times.
As you may recall, the Times won their anti-SLAPP motion against me in LA Superior Court, and we are appealing that to the Court of Appeals.
We’re optimistic, but in the meantime the Times has filed their attorneys’ fees with the Court and is demanding that I pay them $340,000. That’s right — the LA Times defamed me, and now they’re abusing the law to try to bankrupt me!
There’s a court hearing about the Times’ insane legal bills on November 20; if you’d like to attend please let me know.
Among the highlights:
Times lawyer Kelli Sager charges $705 an hour to defend them against the people they libel, instead of simply publishing a retraction and an apology for their lies. No wonder newspapers are in financial trouble!
One of the defendant corporate entities, Tribune Media, ceased to relate to newspapers in a complicated restructuring that my previous lawyer didn’t know about. Sager was supposed to tell my former lawyer; that’s standard legal ethics. She didn’t. Yet she is billing more than $30,000 just defending that defendant…when she could simply have told my lawyer for the cost of a phone call.
If the Times wins on November 20th, they will likely go after the $75,000 bond posted in 2016 as a result of a previous court order. If that happens and I prevail at appeal, we’ll get it back.
Thank you for your support and, if you’ve been following the fight between Disney and the LA Times, remember: the LA Times are not First Amendment heroes.

Lawsuit Update

It has been a while since I filled you in on what’s going on with my lawsuit, so if you’ve been wondering, here’s what’s what.

The original judge in my case, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, retired. That was a bummer for me because she seemed to understand the case and its importance, and for the most part, she ruled in my favor. LA Superior Court handed the LA Times’ anti-SLAPP motion against me over to a temporary substitute judge, a retired gentleman brought back for a few months in order to help the court dig out of its formidable backlog. Judge Joseph Kalin informed us that he had over 500 cases on his docket. He also said that he had read all of the documents in my case over the previous week. Considering that they are over a foot high and amount to thousands of pages, call me skeptical. No human being could possibly handle all that work.

Adding to the challenge was getting sabotaged by my own lawyers. Rather than send a seasoned litigator to argue the crucial anti-SLAPP hearings (of which three were scheduled), Shegerian & Associates sent a junior associate just a few of years out of law school to argue against Times attorney Kelli Sager, a veteran litigator with decades of experience at a major white-shoe law firm that represents giant corporations trying to crush workers. She was timid, unprepared and failed to fight back when Sager said things that simply weren’t true. Unsurprisingly, the judge ruled against me.

With two more hearings to go, I asked the firm to send out the litigator that we had agreed upon. Carney Shegerian responded with a Notice of Termination. That’s right: my own lawyer fired me! It’s not because I was rude or anything like that. I wasn’t. I don’t know why he did it but I do know that other lawyers tell me that this kind of behavior, dumping a client right before a crucial hearing, is highly unethical.

I managed to find a new attorney in time for the next hearing, but Judge Kalin refused to grant me a continuance to allow my new lawyer time to familiarize himself with my case, and forced me to do my own oral argument. Naturally, the Times lawyer didn’t grant me the basic courtesy of a continuance. All along, they have been playing by scorched-earth tactics.

OK, so I did better than the junior litigator: the judge acknowledged that I had told the truth about my jaywalking arrest in 2001. Which means that the Times never should have written those two articles libeling me and that they should have retracted them and that they should have hired me back immediately. Instead, Judge Kalin ruled that, as a newspaper, the First Amendment gives the Times the right to publish anything, even lies, because of the anti-SLAPP law. Strike two.

Now we go to the Court of Appeals, where we will ask the Court to reverse Judge Kalin’s ruling.

I have a sharp new legal team for the appeal: appellate attorney Jeff Lewis and trial lawyer Roger Lowenstein. We’ve been strategizing and I feel we have a strong case base on the both the content and the spirit of the law, not to mention precedent.

We are drafting our appellate brief, which for anti-SLAPP the court considers de novo, or without consideration for the lower-court ruling. Then the Times gets to respond. Then the court sets a hearing date. Best guess right now is that the appeal will be heard in mid-2018.

If we prevail at that stage, then the case really begins: discovery, subpoenas, depositions of Times employees, etc. If we lose, that’s it. And I’ll owe the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars in THEIR legal fees. Anti-SLAPP is brutal and desperately needs reform to stop these megacorporations from abusing it to crush individual plaintiffs.

In the meantime, I will be incurring substantial costs related to the case, so if you feel inclined to support my fight against the collusion between the LA Times and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, you can help out at http://gofundme.com/tedrall.

LA Times Wins First Round of Anti-SLAPPs; Now On to the Appeal

When I filed suit to defend myself against repeated acts of libel by the LA Times and its parent company Tronc, I knew it was the beginning of a long, grueling and risky legal war against a wealthy corporation. Because they libeled me, and did so for sleazy LAPD chief Charlie Beck as part of a corrupt backroom deal, it was the right thing to do — so I did it.

Now I am at risk of losing everything I own. Still, I am fighting on.

Anti-SLAPP: Shortly after I sued in 2016, Times attorney Kelli Sager filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me in LA Superior Court. (Anti-SLAPP laws were written to protect individuals against big companies like the Times, but are in practice are often abused by corporations to quash critics and whistleblowers.)

My case can’t start until I get past anti-SLAPP. There is no discovery (the ability to subpoena documents and depose witnesses). If the Times wins anti-SLAPP my case is dismissed and the court will order me to pay their attorneys fees. The Times says those fees will be $300,000. They know I can’t afford that. That’s why they’re doing it–to try to ruin me and send a message to anyone else they decide to attack: fight back against us, and we will destroy you.

Fuck that.

The original judge in my case had ruled against the Times’ repeated motions to dismiss my case. In other words, she thought I had a case. But then she retired — months before the anti-SLAPP hearings, and before a new judge was assigned my case.

The first hearing, with oral arguments, was June 21, 2017. (This was only for the individual defendants: publisher Austin Beutner, reporter Paul Pringle, editorial page editor Nick Goldberg and readers rep Deirdre Edgar.) My lawyer, Carney Shegerian of Shegerian and Associates, inexplicably sent a young junior associate to go up against Sager, a senior partner at a huge anti-worker law firm with decades of experience. As I watched in disbelief, Sager wiped the floor with my lawyer.

Judge Joseph Kalin, in his 80s, was unfamiliar with my case. Kalin was a substitute judge brought back from retirement temporarily because the court was short-handed. Also, he is known for his pro-defense bias (I am the plaintiff.) To my knowledge, he has never ruled against an anti-SLAPP motion.

Kalin ruled against me from the bench. It was a disaster. Next week was the main event: the defendants LA Times and Tronc. So I asked Shegerian for a meeting to strategize, and suggested that a seasoned litigator was called for. Shegerian responded by emailing me a Notice of Termination.

In case you’re wondering: yes, it’s illegal for a lawyer to abandon his client days before a crucial hearing. Anyone considering retaining him should think twice lest they too be left in a lurch. Also, you might wonder if I was rude or intemperate in my communications. Never, ever. Trusted friends who are always honest with me — those are the only friends to have — read the emails and were shocked at how polite I was and how he reacted. This includes lawyers.

Self-Represented: Fired by my lawyer, I asked Kalin for time (a continuance) to find new counsel. Kalin gave me two weeks in all, but that’s not nearly enough time, especially during the summer and over a four-day holiday weekend. On July 14, 2017, he forced me to argue my own case against the Times and Tronc. You can read the transcript of that hearing here.

Adding to the absurdity, I actually found a lawyer, Roger Lowenstein, the day before July 14! Yet Kalin refused to grant me the courtesy of a continuance so Roger could read all the papers and prepare his own argument. (Lawyers across the country expressed disbelief that I wasn’t allowed this delay, but that’s what happened.)

Several weeks later, Kalin ruled against me on Tribune Interactive, another defendant. Why did he take so long the second time? Was it because my oral arguments gave him more to think about?

The Ruling: Times attorney Sager will read this (hi!) so can’t get into detail about what Kalin said in his ruling, but it’s a public record and I’ll send it to anyone interested. Suffice it to say that the judge got some important things wrong about both the facts of the case and the law. My favorite part was that Kalin actually forgot to rule on the Times and Tronc! You know, the primary defendants. He expressed surprise at a later hearing that he hadn’t included the main defendants, and then quickly added them.

Appeal: Anti-SLAPP rulings are automatically appealable to the California Court of Appeals, so whoever lost this round was going to appeal no matter what. My side has already filed the official notice of appeal with the court, so that process is beginning now. Under the statute, the appeals court looks at the matter de novo, in other words, with fresh eyes. They don’t consider the ruling of the lower court. The Court of Appeals is a three-judge panel.

If the Court of Appeals agrees that I have enough of a case to survive the anti-SLAPP statute, then discovery begins and the case begins in earnest. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will take to get before the court of appeals, but a rough estimate tells me the last half of 2018 seems about right.

In the event that the LA Times prevails, then I will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to them, my case disappears, and the practice of libel and defamation law in the state of California will be even more degraded than it already has been. More importantly, the newspaper’s management will continue to operate with impunity, deploying a slash and burn approach to going after their enemies, covering for the LAPD, and operating with reckless disregard for the truth.

If you are interested in supporting my work, you can contribute to my Patreon. If you want to simply support my case with a financial contribution, you can contribute to my GoFundMe. Expenses for this case will be considerable, including but not limited to court filing fees, preparation and printing of documents, travel between my home in New York and the courthouse in Los Angeles, etc.

Money aside, I especially appreciate anyone who helps spread the word about my struggle on social media, through their website, via their contacts in the media, and so on. I am available to speak about it in public if you’d like to invite me to your city to do so.

If they get away with what they did to me, they can do it to anyone else. And they will.

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.

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?

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

Image result for attorney pro se

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.)