Tag Archives: Attorney

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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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.)

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Got Justice? I Desperately Need Your Help.

I need a new lawyer.

A courageous lawyer in LA? They’re hard to find. When I Googled “crusading Los Angeles attorney,” all I found were obituaries. But that’s what I need — because my lawyer dumped me days before the most crucial hearing of my case.

Image result for latimes lapd

So if you know a great wrongful termination and/or defamation lawyer in LA or in CA and able to litigate in LA, I need to hear from you post haste. You can email me here.

In 2015 I sued the LA Times for defamation and wrongful termination. This was after they published two articles accusing me of lying in a blog post based on an audio tape they claimed to have gotten from the LAPD. In fact, the audio proved I’d told the truth — but the Times still refuses to admit they’re wrong, publish a retraction and give me back my job as a cartoonist.

Rather than do the right thing and back down, the Times hit me with three “anti-SLAPP motions” that accuses mean old me, their former $300/week cartoonist, of suppressing the First Amendment rights of sweet little LA Times, owned by a wee $416 million corporation. They want me to pay them $300,000 for their legal fees. Believe it or not, they claim in LA Superior Court that they have the right to lie and defame people because they’re a newspaper and because there’s a “public interest” in what they publish.

On June 21, the Times won the first of their three anti-SLAPP hearings, against the individual defendants: Austin Beutner, the ex-publisher who received the sketchy audio from his pal LAPD Chief Charlie Beck; reporter Paul Pringle, who pretended to investigate it; and the authors of the two libelous articles about me, Nick Goldberg and Deirdre Edgar. This can be appealed within 60 days.

I can’t get into detail about what went down with my law firm, but the basics are this: I was always super polite and nice. After our June 21 defeat, I wanted to meet with my lawyers to discuss strategy so that we didn’t get beaten again at the June 28 hearing, the main event against the LA Times and Tronc, the Times’ parent company. They said no, they didn’t have time. I asked for a more experienced litigator. They said no.

They sent me a Notice of Termination. I don’t know why.

(To any lawyer reading this and considering whether to look at my case: I’ll send you all this stuff so you can see I’m telling you the real deal.)

So here’s the deal: Unless I find a new lawyer by Friday, July 14th, I — former $300/week cartoonist — will have to appear pro se, representing myself on California’s complicated anti-SLAPP law against one of the state’s top experts in the field, a partner at a giant law firm. It will be very Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I’m not a lawyer.

If I get a lawyer, he or she will get a few weeks to familiarize themselves with the case.

Lawyers all over California are turning me down: not enough time, too busy, on vacation, too complicated, troublesome to take over a case from another lawyer, conflict of interest. Even so, most agree that if we can get past anti-SLAPP and get our case in front of a jury, they will rule for justice and against the LA Times, which has been corrupted by the LAPD.

I knew there would be bumps in the road when I decided to take on the LA Times and by extension the LAPD, and this is a big one. I desperately need your help.

I can’t do this alone.

P.S. People are asking about the ACLU of Southern California. They are not returning my calls or emails.

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