Tag Archives: los angeles times

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

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“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.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No Way Would Today’s Newspapers Publish the Pentagon Papers

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Steven Spielberg’s new movie “The Post” depicts a newspaper’s decision to defy the government, risk its financial health and imprisonment of its editors in order to report a hard truth and defend the press’ First Amendment rights by publishing the Pentagon Papers.

After the Washington Post’s decision to inform the American people that top government officials had known that the Vietnam War was unwinnable yet had repeatedly lied about it for years, editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) dumps a pile of out-of-town newspapers on a desk for publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) to see. We’ve started a “rebellion,” Bradlee informs Graham. We’re no longer alone speaking truth to power.

No way would that happen today.

I was pleased to see that “The Post” highlights the pressures and biases that weighed against publication: a publisher undermined by sexism and low expectations, a paper trying to raise capital under the eye of nervous bankers, the Nixon Administration’s take-no-prisoners prosecutorial abuse by a vicious attorney general, and — not least — the Post’s cozy establishmentarianism, centered around Graham’s famous hard-drinking salons where reporters hobnobbed with the officials they were supposed to cover objectively.

After a lot of wavering and gnashing of lawyerly teeth, Graham finally makes the call: go to press.

The key point of this story, which isn’t made in the movie and few younger moviegoers are likely to be aware, is that it was her decision to make. The Graham family held controlling interest in the Washington Post Company. Great newspaper families like the Grahams, the Chandlers and the Sulzbergers were quirky and often had bad politics. But they also had something today’s corporate, publicly-traded media outlets do not: editorial freedom.

They didn’t always do the right thing. But they could. So sometimes they did.

Sadly, those days are gone.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, reportedly a right-leaning libertarian, bought the Post in late 2013. What reception would a Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers) or an Edward Snowden get if they contacted a Post reporter today, under Bezos?

Snowden’s case is indicative. The Post and three other papers published Snowden’s NSA leaks in 2013, months before Bezos took over. In 2016, the Bezos-owned Post called upon President Obama to refuse Snowden’s pardon application. In so doing, wrote Glenn Greenwald, the Post “achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source — one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.” (The other three papers were pro-pardon.)

Even more obnoxiously, the Post’s Snowden editorial didn’t mention its major conflict of interest related to intelligence agencies like the NSA. Amazon — the Post’s sister company under Bezos — had the CIA (where Snowden also worked) as a $600 million client. That’s more than twice what Bezos paid for the Post.

Coincidence? Je pense que non.

The Los Angeles Times sells “Speaking Truth to Power” hoodies. But when the power is the LAPD — and the LAPD owns the paper — the Times publishes lies.
My regular readers are familiar with the sordid details of my 2015 firing by The Los Angeles Times as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. You’re not much of a political cartoonist in L.A. if you don’t go after the militarized, racist, violent LAPD — and the Times published many of my anti-LAPD/anti-Beck toons over the years. So did the Pasadena Weekly, which drove the boys in blue so nuts that they asked its publisher to fire me. PW refused.

Then the Times’ corporate parent, the Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, hired an LAPD-connected billionaire and wannabe politician, Austin Beutner, as publisher for the Times. Beutner appears to have midwifed a deal in which the LAPD patrolmen’s $16.4 billion union retirement fund moved to a firm that invested eight figures into a fund containing Tribune stock. (Given that newspaper stocks in general and Tribune specifically had been losing value, it’s a fair assumption that the buy was more about influence than taking care of retired LAPD officers.) Within weeks — and explicitly against Times rules — the same union issued an award to Beutner for his “support [of] the LAPD in all that they do.”

Beck asked his friend Beutner to use ginned-up “evidence” to fire and smear me; Beutner, the cop-award winner, complied, and even stayed the course after the truth came out and I was vindicated. My defamation case against Beutner and the Times is in court.

The Times never disclosed to its readers about Tribune’s business relationship with the LAPD union.

It’s a level of corruption that would make Al Capone blush. Yet it’s perfectly legal in the United States for a police union to buy a newspaper. Indeed, the same union bought part of the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2009 — and leveraged its ownership to ask that the U-T fire critics of the police.

Come to think of it, isn’t it weird that a company with more than half a billion dollars in business with the CIA is allowed to own a major news organization like the Post?

Given the Trump Administration’s attacks against “fake news” and the news media, it may seem paradoxical to suggest government action as a solution to the corruption of the news media as we’re seeing at outlets like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. But the evidence is clear. Outrageous deals such as those between the Post’s owner and the CIA and between the Times’ owner and the LAPD amount to government censorship of the news media — a violation of the First Amendment’s fundamental principle.

Congress should prohibit such arrangements.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” co-written with Harmon Leon. His next book will be “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. 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.

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

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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.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99%

Image result for court fees expensive            I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and boys will be girls”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocketed plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(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.)

July 14, 2017 is Bastille Day and Also I Finally Get To Tell a Court What the Los Angeles Times Did to Me

Image result for lapd chief beck

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. The LA Times protected Beck as an anonymous source in violation of its Ethical Guidelines, which prohibit such anonymity.

If you live in or near Los Angeles and you have Friday mornings off, here’s a Save the Date: LA Superior Court, 111 North Hill Street, downtown LA. Take the elevator up to the 7th floor, to Department 74. Friday, July 14, 2017 at 9 am: be there or be square.

I’ll be defending myself against The Los Angeles Times, which colluded with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to fire me two years ago. Personally. Pro se.

I’ll be acting as my own lawyer.

My crime? For six years my cartoons in the Times criticized the police in general, the LAPD in particular and Chief Beck personally because of his department’s deplorable history of brutalizing civilians and murdering people of color, widespread corruption and incompetence.

I don’t blame Beck, the LAPD and the LAPD police union, the Los Angeles Police and Protective League (LAPPL) for hating my guts. I’m a political cartoonist. I pissed them off. Cartoons still matter.

If LA cops were nicer and smarter, of course, they wouldn’t have gotten mad at me. They would have remembered their slogan — “to protect and to serve” — and started doing that and stopped beating up young black men. Instead, the LAPD was out to get me.

Being hated by the cops wasn’t new. In addition to the Times, I drew cartoons for Pasadena Weekly. Publisher Kevin Ulrich remembers that I was “infuriating cops, ticking off prosecutors and politicians, and regularly challenging the powers that be at City Hall.” In other words, doing my job.

“In his latest controversy, Rall suspects police officials told the Times to fire him, which would not be surprising,” Ulrich wrote in 2015. “That same request was made of me many times by Pasadena police and other city officials. If the cops in LA despised Rall half as much as did Pasadena’s Blue Crew, it is certainly believable that they would set him up for some sort of fall, just as it would probably be just a matter of time before some ‘lucky’ LAPD officer would run into him on the street.”

Indeed, that’s exactly what I learned after the Times fired and slimed me, portraying me to their readers as a liar and a fabulist in not one but two pieces. The chief of police told the Times to fire me.

So they did.

Chief Beck read a cartoon I wrote about the LAPD’s latest nasty crackdown on the phony crime of jaywalking, which disproportionately targeted working-class and people of color with $200 fines they couldn’t afford. In an online blog I wrote to accompany my toon, I mentioned that I’d been arrested for jaywalking by a mean cop in 2001. The officer, I wrote, had falsely accused me of jaywalking. He threw me against a wall and handcuffed me. An angry crowd gathered.

Beck strolled the single block between the Times and LAPD HQ and walked into the office of then-publisher Austin Beutner. Beutner, a billionaire, didn’t have newspaper experience. But he wanted to be mayor. And Beck was his only major political ally.

The LAPD had long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Times. The paper relied on the cops for tips, especially after years of slashing the budget for reporters. Cops even ate in the Times cafeteria (me, I had to sign in). But things had gotten even more lovey-dovey under Beutner.

A couple of months after Beutner became publisher, the LAPPL awarded its pet billionaire its “Badge & Eagle Award” for “their dedication to law enforcement” and supporting the LAPD “in all that they do.” Never mind the paper’s “ethical guidelines,” which state: “Awards: Staff members should enter their work only in contests whose central purpose is to recognize journalistic excellence.”

Newspaper stocks have been reliable losers for a long time. But the LAPPL viewed Tribune Publishing, the Times’ parent company, as a solid investment — in influence. As Tribune’s stock plunged, the LAPPL spent tens of millions in pension funds to effectively become the Times’ #1 shareholder. Nothing new there — back in 2009, the LAPPL bought a chunk of the San Diego Union-Tribune, then told a newspaper that that investment bought influence, influence it planned to use to force the firing of editorial writers it didn’t deem sufficiently pro-cop. That paper was the Times.

            Whole lotta cozy going on.

Beck gave Beutner an audio recording secretly made by my cop back in 2001. This proves Ted Rall lied, Beck told him. It shows no angry crowd. No handcuffing. No mistreatment.

The audio was almost all static and traffic noise.

After they canned me and published their first attempt to destroy my journalistic career and send a chilling message to police critics, I had Beck’s secret audio sent to a company that cleaned up some of the noise.

“Take off his handcuffs!” one woman yelled at the cop.

People were on there, all right. And they had lots to say — angry things about police brutality — to the cop.

Did the Times admit they messed up? Nope. They doubled down, publishing a second piece — this one full of even more lies.

So I sued. Did they admit they messed up? Nope. They doubled down, filing a “anti-SLAPP” motion that — get this — argues that I censored the Times with my lawsuit. For having the temerity to try to clean up my libeled reputation, the Times is asking a judge to force me to pay their legal fees — which they say will be at least $300,000.

I lost the first of three anti-SLAPP motions. The main event, against the Times itself, is Friday, July 14th. My attorneys fired me after the first loss, so I’ll be on my own. That’s right: I’ll be representing myself in court.

If you care about a free press, please be there. I’m free for lunch after.

(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.)