Tag Archives: legal

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Corporations Are Abusing anti-SLAPP Laws to Screw Over Workers

“It’s a sadly familiar sight in courthouses around the country: A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.”

Sounds awful, right?

Fortunately, according to The Los Angeles Times editorial board, “That’s why California enacted a law in 1992 to give people a preemptive legal strike against frivolous lawsuits that seek to muzzle them on public issues.” According to the Digital Media Law Project, 28 states, D.C., and one U.S. territory have enacted these so-called “anti-SLAPP statutes.” (SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” A classic example was when the cattle industry sued Oprah for dissing beef.)

At first glance, anti-SLAPP seems like a good solution to a serious problem.

In theory.

In the real world, however, well-meaning legislators have created a monster. In the hands of clever corporate lawyers, anti-SLAPP laws have become a loophole to libel laws and a catchall defense for disgusting behavior. What started as a good idea has become a menace to free speech, the ability to protect one’s reputation, and the right to redress in a court of law.

As I’ve discovered personally over the last year, California’s anti-SLAPP statute is at least as likely to be used by “a deep-pocketed corporation” against a “critic” as the way the legislature originally intended, which is to say the other way around.

In July 2015 The Los Angeles Times — yes, the same paper that published the above editorial — fired me as its staff editorial cartoonist. It has since come out that they did so as a favor to Charlie Beck, the $297,000-a-year chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Beck’s feelings were hurt because of the cartoons that I drew about him.

The cops weren’t satisfied with merely having me fired. They wanted me destroyed. So the Times also published a pair of articles that falsely portrayed me as a liar and a fabulist — death to a journalist’s reputation.

So I sued the Times for wrongful termination, blacklisting, retaliation and defamation, as well as other claims.

Initially I had trouble finding a lawyer willing to represent me on the defamation claim. California’s anti-SLAPP statute, attorneys told me, have gutted the practice of defamation law in the Golden State. Fortunately for me, as several of the state’s leading experts on defamation law told me, Times management’s behavior was so outrageous, reprehensible and ongoing that I stood a better chance of getting over the anti-SLAPP hurdle than most plaintiffs.

As most of the attorneys I consulted had predicted, one of the first things that the Times did was file an anti-SLAPP motion against me. So much for anti-SLAPP being used against “a deep-pocketed corporation…whose real purpose is to silence a critic.” The Times is owned by Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing), a $499 million mega-corporation. The Times paid me $300 a week.

Until that pretrial anti-SLAPP motion is decided, I can’t engage in “discovery,” the process of gathering information through subpoenas and depositions essential to forming a case. As Vikram David Amar writes, “oftentimes a plaintiff who may have a valid claim will not be able to prevail because s/he will not have had enough of an opportunity to gather the evidence (through legal discovery devices like depositions and document requests) needed to prove the case.”

Because of anti-SLAPP, I must convince a judge that I am likely to prevail at an eventual trial — before the first juror has been chosen or any evidence has been discovered.

If the judge decides that I will probably lose my case, I will have to pay all of the Times’ legal fees. According to papers that the defendants filed, they expect that to amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The case would be dismissed. I would go bankrupt.

Even if I convince the judge that I’ll win, my tormentors at the Times then get a second shot at destroying my financial well-being: they can go to the Court of Appeals. By that time, of course, their legal bills will be even higher. And it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that those fees will be highly padded. Many judges take defendants at their word when it comes to the validity of legal invoices.

We’re not done.

I live in New York. As an out-of-state plaintiff, California Code 1030 provides a defendant the right to move that I be required to post a bond in order to guarantee the payment of the Times’ attorney fees should they prevail on their anti-SLAPP motion. “The Times will defend itself vigorously against Mr. Rall’s claims,” a Times spokesperson said when I sued. They sure are. They filed a motion asking the judge to require me to post a whopping $300,000 bond.

The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Unlike criminal bonds that can be purchased for 10%, however, this civil bond must be 100% collateralized. In other words, I have to come up with $75,000 in “pay to play” money by Thursday, August 18, or my case will automatically be dismissed.

And you thought this was a free country.

Happily, there are signs that anti-SLAPP madness is finally coming to an end. Setting an important precedent, Justice Vance Raye of the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento denied an anti-SLAPP motion filed by UC Davis against a former employee who claims she was fired for whistleblowing.

“The cure [anti-SLAPP] has become the disease,” wrote Raye. UC’s argument was “ at odds with the purpose of the anti-SLAPP law, which was designed to ferret out meritless lawsuits intended to quell the free exercise of First Amendment rights, not to burden victims of discrimination and retaliation with an earlier and heavier burden of proof than other civil litigants and dissuade the exercise of their right to petition for fear of an onerous attorney fee award.”

Raye’s ruling is a good start. But what’s needed is for the 28 state legislatures in anti-SLAPP states to reform the law.

If you like to read more about the case and/or contribute to my fundraiser – I am not going down without a fight – please click here or go directly to http://gofundme.com/tedrall

(Ted Rall is the author of the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography.”)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Professionals Behaving Badly

http://www.davidicke.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/predator-2-missiles-firing.jpg

The Drone Memo’s Hack Author Should Be In Prison. Instead, He’ll Be a Judge.

Conservatives say, and this is one of their more successful memes, that poor people are immoral. The proles have sex and kids out of wedlock and expect us (i.e., upstanding middle- and upper-class patriots) to pay for them. They steal Medicare and cheat on welfare. They don’t follow The Rules (rules written by, let’s just say, not them). Which makes them Bad.

This was always hogwash, of course. Though it is true that poverty causes people to do bad things, class and morals are uncorrelated. But who’s worse, the poor thief or the wealthy person who refuses to pay him a living wage?

America’s professional class has traditionally enjoyed a privileged position at the top of middlebrow America’s aspirational hierarchy. At the core of our admiration for doctors, lawyers and bankers was the presumption that these learned men and women adhered to strict codes of ethics. Doctors healed, lawyers respected the law and bankers didn’t steal.

When they did, there’d be hell to pay, not least from their brethren.

Evidence abounded that the clay content in the professional class’ metaphorical feet was no lower than anybody else’s. Thanks to recent developments, not least since 2008’s save-the-banks-not-the-people orgy of featherbedding at taxpayer expense, the fiction that we should look up to the technocracy is dying fast.

Not only are some physicians crapping on their Hippocratic oath by carrying out executions of prisoners and participating in the horrific torture of innocent concentration camp inmates, the associations charged with enforcing professional ethics sit on their old-boys-club hands. Big-time judges, depicted in movies as moral giants who love to get medieval on evil dirtbags whether in the mafia or the CIA, act like wimps instead, grumbling under their mint-flossed breath as they sign off on the federally-funded insertion of needles into innocent men’s penises.

Thurgood wept.

I got to thinking about the fall of the professional class after hearing that the White House has finally relented in its incessant stonewalling on the Drone Memo. Finally, we peons will get a peek at a legal opinion that the White House uses to justify using drones to blow up anyone, anywhere, including American citizens on American soil, for any reason the President deems fit.

When the news broke, I tweeted: “This should be interesting.”

I’m a cartoonist, but I can’t imagine any reading of the Constitution — left, right, in Swahili — that allows the president to circumvent due process and habeas corpus. I can’t see how Obama can get around Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333, even after Bush amended it. Political assassinations are clearly proscribed: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” (Yes, even bin Laden.)

I have no doubt that David Barron, who is a professor at the very fancy Harvard Law School and held the impressive title of Former Acting Chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and who furthermore is President Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, did his very bestest with his mad legal skillz to come up with a “kill ’em all, let Obama sort ’em out” memo he could be proud of.

Still, this topic prompts two questions:

What kind of human being would accept such an assignment? Did anyone check for a belly button?

How badly would such a person have to mangle the English language, logic, Constitutional law and legal precedent, in order to extract the justification for mass murder he was asked to produce?

I haven’t seen the drone memo, but Senator Rand Paul has. Whatever legal hocus-pocus Barron deployed didn’t convince Paul. “There is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court,” Paul said in a statement.

I’ll bet my next couple of paychecks that Paul is correct — and that Barron’s sophistry wouldn’t withstand a serious court challenge, not even before a panel of a dozen Antonin Scalias. After all, we’ve been here before.

Shortly after 9/11, Dick Cheney and his cadre of neo-con fanatics ordered the White House Office of Legal Counsel, the same entity behind Barron’s drone memo, to come up with a legal justification to give Bush legal cover for torturing suspected terrorists. When they emerged, the Torture Memos were roundly derided by legal experts as substandard, twisted and perverse readings of the Constitution, treaty obligations and case law. Read them. You’ll see.

In 2010, the Justice Department decided not to file charges against Torture Memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee on the grounds that the two men weren’t evil — just dumb. (Can’t they be both?) The Torture Memos, they ruled, were shoddy. That, I’m as sure as I can be about something I haven’t seen yet, will be the case with the drone memo.

As with Yoo and Bybee, both of whom went on to prosper in the legal profession rather than warm the prison cells they both richly deserve, Barron probably won’t lose anything as the result of his work on the drone memo. He’ll be a federal judge.

Yet another heavy stone on the grave of America’s once-vaunted professional class.

(Ted Rall, staff cartoonist and writer for Pando Daily, is author of “Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.” Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

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Legalish

President Obama says the NSA’s surveillance programs against American citizens are “transparent.” Indeed, there is a legal veneer — memos that validate them, secret courts that supervise them, a few Congressmen who are briefed — but true legality cannot be the result of secrecy. Welcome to the Age of Legalish.

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