I was wronged. All I wanted was a trial by jury, a right enshrined in Anglo-Saxon legal tradition in the Magna Carta 903 years ago.
Is this still America? No. America is dead.
Not only have I been denied that fundamental right, I have been punished for having had the temerity to seek redress in the courts.
Justice is when wrongdoers are punished and victims are compensated. Instead, the California court system has provided Anti-Justice. The wrongdoers are getting off scot-free. I, the victim, am not merely being ignored or brushed off. I am being actively punished.
The ruling in Ted Rall v. Los Angeles Times et al. came down last week. The California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Times’ “anti-SLAPP” motion against me. Anti-SLAPP law supporters, including the Times, say they’re supposed to be used by poor individuals to defend their First Amendment rights against big companies. But that’s BS. The Times—owned by the $500 million Tronc corporation when I filed suit, now owned by $7 billion biotechnology entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong—abused anti-SLAPP to destroy me.
My case was simple. I drew cartoons mocking the LAPD and then-Chief Charlie Beck for the Times, criticizing them for abusing people of color and the poor. A new publisher, Beck’s pal, took over. Beck asked publisher Austin Beutner to fire me and to smear me so I couldn’t work anymore. So the Times ran two pieces announcing that I’d been fired, not for offending Beck—violating their own Ethical Guidelines, they kept his identity secret—but for supposedly lying in a blog post discussing a jaywalking arrest in 2001. I hadn’t lied. I told the truth. And I proved it.
“One hell of a defamation case,” a lawyer told me. Another, a top expert on libel, said: “If you don’t win your case, defamation law in California is dead.”
But as the Times’ lawyer kept saying in court, “the quote/unquote truth doesn’t matter.” She was right. What mattered were power, money and influence.
The ruling means my case will probably never go to trial. The court has already ordered me to pay $330,000 to the Times for their legal fees because hey, a guy with $7 billion obviously needs and deserves to get cash from a cartoonist the Times used to pay $300 a week. That sum will definitely be higher—perhaps double—by the time the Times files the rest of its padded legal fees.
I will never get discovery, which means neither I nor the readers of the Times will ever learn the details about how then-publisher Austin Beutner (now superintendent of LA schools, where teachers are on strike because Beutner doesn’t want to give them a proper raise) arranged for the LAPD pension fund to become #1 shareholder of the Times’ parent company. Neither I nor the readers of the Times will ever know just how deep the corruption between the LA Times and the LAPD went, or to what extent the Times agreed to provide police-friendly coverage.
For me personally the ruling necessarily means bankruptcy and/or being forced to leave the United States so I can continue to earn a living. This used to be the kind of thing that happened to journalists in other countries, not the U.S. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even get the ACLU behind me—because they don’t want to be seen as opposing the anti-SLAPP law.
I’m much luckier than Jamal Khashoggi—though the scorched-earth litigation tactics and lies deployed by National Enquirer/LA Times attorney Kelli Sager makes me pretty sure they would do the same thing to me if they could get away with it.
But the court’s real message isn’t directed toward me. What the court did in brazen deference to the LAPD and the LA Times and in direct opposition of the law was to send a message to journalists in California: do not mess with the cops and do not mess with a newspaper owned by the cops.
If you do your jobs, we will crush you.
At a time when reporters who still get to work are grateful to merely see their salaries slashed rather than join the ranks of the unemployed, you’d have to be a total goddamned idiot to criticize law enforcement.
There is one last slim reed of hope: the California Supreme Court. I am petitioning the high court to reverse the Court of Appeal’s anti-SLAPP ruling. But the odds are long. They hear fewer than five percent of appeals.
During his confirmation hearing Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh said that as a judge he wanted even the losing side to come out of the process feeling that his side had been heard and carefully considered.
I feel the opposite.
Since the start of my case it has been painfully obvious that the fix was in. As the plaintiff and as the victim of deliberate and repeated libel on behalf of one of the most corrupt police agencies in the country, I was the aggrieved party. Yet the courts treated me just like the Times did when they canned me: I was guilty until proven innocent and guilty even after having been proven innocent.
Pretzel logic has been a constant since 2015, when Beutner’s Times ran a piece about me which read that “a man and a woman can be heard speaking in the background at one point, but only a few of their words are intelligible…[they] appear to be having a conversation unrelated to the jaywalking stop.” Hey morons: if you can’t hear what they’re saying, how can you hear what they’re not saying?
The court’s ruling was no more intelligent.
The anti-SLAPP law requires judges to consider a theoretical construct at the anti-SLAPP stage of a case. Without judging the evidence, assume that the plaintiff’s case is 100% as presented, 100% accurate, all his evidence 100% true. Then assume that nothing the defense says is true. Would there be a smidge of a case there? If yes, the case moves forward.
As in many other anti-SLAPP cases, the judges didn’t even pretend to do that.
When my attorney Jeffrey Lewis mentioned that basic aspect of anti-SLAPP during oral arguments (listen here), the judges reacted as though they’d never heard such a thing before! Times lawyer Sager knew Lewis was correct which is why she didn’t touch the issue in her rebuttal. Yet the ruling in favor of the defendants didn’t mention, much less rebut the evidence rule. To the contrary: the justices ignored my arguments and evidence, assuming everything I said to be false. And they took everything the Times said, not at face value—because anyone reading the pieces could tell they were false—but beyond, crediting their goodwill beyond even what the Times alleged in its defense (for example, saying that the Times sent my enhanced audio for professional analysis, something the Times never claimed).
A couple decades ago I wrote that the court system was the last functional branch of government, the final resting place of the proposition that injustice could be addressed even when the villain was powerful. Perhaps I was right then. It certainly isn’t true now.
Any American who trusts the court system is a fool.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)