Tag Archives: Kelli Sager

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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: I’m in Awe of the Liars at the Los Angeles Times

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There’s a scene in the movie “Idiocracy” in which a character cheers as cops blow a car to smithereens. “That’s your car!” another, less dumb, character points out. The idiot, a lawyer named Frito, keeps cheering.

I felt kind of like the less-dumb guy in Los Angeles Superior Court a week ago, when I watched a lawyer for the Los Angeles Times defame me and twist the facts to a level rarely seen outside a White House press briefing.

I was Kelli Sager’s victim. Sager, a partner at the pro-business law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, is a shark. She argued before a judge that the Times was right to knowingly lie about me in its pages, that the First Amendment meant the Times was immune from defamation and libel law, and that I should pay the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars for their legal fees for having had the temerity to sue them.

And, she was successful (for the time being). It was strangely thrilling to watch a professional — granted, a professional dissembler for a newspaper corrupted beyond belief — at the top of her game.

To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson: when the lying gets weird, the liars turn pro.

For decades, the Los Angeles Times was one of the best newspapers in the United States. It was arguably the best full-service paper — like the New York Times, LA had all the foreign bureaus and deep national and local coverage required of a great news organization, along with the features New York doesn’t carry but readers like me enjoy: comics, horoscopes and advice columns.

Every newspaper has struggled to adapt to the Internet. But the LA Times has had more trouble than most. If I were in charge, I’d rebrand it. The New York Times is the national paper of news and culture, the Washington Post is the national paper of politics, the Wall Street Journal is the national paper of business, and the Los Angeles Times ought to be the national paper of entertainment — movies, music and gaming. Instead, the LA Times is doing things the same way they did in 1997, but less so.

Things turned from bad to worse in 2000, when the Tribune Company (as in the Chicago Tribune) acquired the Times. Flailing ensued. The Times’ idiocy culminated in 2005 with “Wikitorial,” a bizarre experiment that allowed readers to add to editorial content. In 2007 Tribune sold itself to real estate mogul Sam Zell, who ran up debt, sucked money out of the company and “busted” it, declaring bankruptcy a year later. It was the beginning of the end.

I began working for the Times in 2009.

Desperate for cash, the Times turned to a sketchy Los Angeles financier and billionaire with no journalistic experience, Austin Beutner, naming him as publisher in 2014. Beutner, a political ally of the LAPD who received an award for “support [to] the LAPD in all that they do” from the LAPD union months after taking over the Times, appears to have midwifed the first known acquisition of a major American newspaper by a government agency: the LAPD union moved its $16.4 billion pension fund to a Beverly Hills investment firm called Oaktree Capital, which then became the #1 shareholder of Tribune, the Times’ parent company.

Like cats and mice, cops and newspapers shouldn’t go into business together. In 2015, billionaire Beutner fired me as a favor to his friend, the allegedly corrupt $300,000-a-year LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, whom I had criticized in my cartoons. They used evidence that turned out to have been trumped-up, and which boomeranged because it supported me, to smear me as a liar and fabulist. So, I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination. The Times then fired Beutner.

On June 21, the court heard the Times’ first of three anti-SLAPP motions against me. Anti-SLAPP motions are supposed to protect free speech, but in this case the Times — part of a $420 million media conglomerate — is asking the court to dismiss my case and charge me at least $300,000 in their legal fees.

The Times has been busy in court. They’re also fighting a pair of age discrimination lawsuits filed by a sports columnist and a Pulitzer-winning reporter who say the Times tried to save money by harassing them into quitting their jobs.

Nothing is sure in life or in court, but I feel confident than a jury would agree with me that what the Times did to me was wrong. I think Kelli Sager, the Times’ lawyer agrees. Which is why she’s been working hard to keep my case away from a jury.

On June 21, Sager fed the judge a bunch of nonsense, but two things she said during oral arguments especially blew me away.

Referencing the first of two articles which falsely accused me of being a fabulist, Sager told the judge that the Times had included links to LAPD records (they’re not really from the LAPD but that’s another story) so Times readers could judge for themselves. No, actually, they didn’t. No one objected.

Sager even brought up race. She accused me, as a white man, of falsely accusing the African-American cop who arrested me for jaywalking in 2001 of misconduct —because he was black.

The mind boggles.

As we walked down the escalator, my lawyer remarked that I had never told her the cop was black. “Because I never mentioned it,” I told her. “Because it wasn’t important.”

I’m in awe.

(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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