Tag Archives: wrongful termination

Ted Rall v. Los Angeles Times: What You Need To Know

My lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times is a long, complicated story. The following is an attempt to bring you up to speed in digestible form.

I became the staff cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times in 2009. Unbeknownst to me, in 2014 the LAPD Pension Fund became the biggest shareholder of Tribune Publishing, parent company of the Times. No one at the Times told me to lay off cartoons about the cops, probably because my editors too were unaware of the secret deal. In 2015 the Times fired me at the request of the LAPD.

The LA Times’ Nutty Audio
I was walking from a Bill Maher show taping to dinner in West Hollywood in October 2001 when an LAPD motorcycle officer confronted me, handcuffed me and roughed me up, drawing a crowd of passersby. He wrote me a ticket for jaywalking. I had not been jaywalking. I filed an Internal Affairs complaint about the false arrest but nothing came of it.
Image result for charlie beckIn July 2015 a LA Times reporter informed me that the officer had secretly audiotaped my arrest, that the LAPD (actually, it was Police Chief Charlie Beck, see below) had given the Times (actually, to publisher Austin Beutner, see below) the tape and that the tape showed I had lied about being handcuffed and mistreated by the cop in a 2015 blog that was posted with a cartoon that I did for the Times about an LAPD jaywalking crackdown.
The sound quality is atrocious. It’s 6-1/2 minutes of static, wind and traffic noise. There is evidence that it was spliced or otherwise tampered with. The LAPD audio neither confirms nor denies my account, which was truthful. Nevertheless, the Times decided to terminate me AND to publish a libelous “Editor’s Note” to readers intended to destroy my reputation as a journalist so that I would never work again.
I had the audio “enhanced”—cleaned up so that voices and other sounds could be heard. The enhancement confirmed my version of the encounter, including a woman shouting “Take off his handcuffs!” at the officer. I sent the vindicating evidence to my editors at the Times. They ignored me.

The Times Doubles Down
Three weeks passed. During this time, pressure built on the Times to reverse their decision. Journalistic organizations, Times subscribers commenting on their website, letter writers and social media from left to right urged the Times to reinstate me. They refused questions from reporters at other press outlets, censored the letters and shut down online comments at latimes.com. Thanks to the enhanced audio, the Times knew it had libeled me in the Editor’s Note. Rather than issue a retraction and offer me back my job, the Times issued a second article, this one by the Times’ ombudsman, that doubled down on the allegations from the first article, which they knew to be false.

My Lawsuit
I waited seven months for the Times to do the right thing. Finally, in 2016, I sued the Times, its parent company Tribune, and four individuals for defamation and wrongful termination. I am determined to defend my reputation against these scurrilous smears.

Here are the individual defendants:

Austin Beutner
Image result for Austin BeutnerTimes publisher at the time, hedge-fund multi-billionaire Austin Beutner was subsequently fired by Tribune for trying to orchestrate an inside-the-boardroom coup. Beutner secretly met with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who subsequently resigned in disgrace. At this meeting Beck handed Beutner the audio recording from 2001. Beck demanded that I be fired for criticizing the police in my cartoons; Beutner, Beck’s political ally and a man who’d like to run for mayor or governor, complied. (The Times still hasn’t told readers where the audio came from.) Beutner is currently the superintendent of the Los Angeles public school district, the largest in the country. His refusal to give teachers a raise prompted an acrimonious walkout by educators.

Nicholas Goldberg
Image result for nick goldberg la timesTimes editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg, a middle manager, appears not to have been trusted with inside knowledge of the high-level conspiracy between Beutner and Beck. It’s hard to know anything for sure before the courts grant discovery, but Goldberg’s role was likely limited to that of hatchet man: his by-line is on the Editor’s Note.

Paul Pringle
Image result for paul pringle la timesBypassing Goldberg, Beutner probably assigned Times investigative reporter Paul Pringle to look into my story. Pringle informed me that the LAPD was accusing me of lying and questioned me at length about what happened the evening of the jaywalking arrest. Pringle, who worked the “cop shop” beat for years and thus spent a lot of time with police, made clear that he believed the cops, not me. Among other silliness, he asked why the low-quality audio didn’t contain the sound of my driver’s license (made of paper) hitting the ground after the officer tossed it or the click of the handcuffs going on. He also wondered why there was no sound of me arguing with the officer; I repeatedly explained that I was compliant, that I don’t argue with cops. In order to determine the authenticity of the LAPD audio, he told me, he asked the LAPD if it was legitimate. Pringle won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism.

Deirdre Goebel Edgar
Image result for deirdre edgarUntil 2018 Deirdre Goebel Edgar was the “Reader’s Representative” of the Times. The reader’s representative is the ombudsman of a newspaper; though paid by the paper her duty is akin to Internal Affairs at a police agency: to make sure the paper is upholding journalism’s highest ethical standards in service to readers. Indeed, in 2014 she authored the Times’ Ethical Guidelines. Among other things, the guidelines require that the subject of a critical story be interviewed at length, in person, to give their side. Edgar wrote the second “doubling down” article in 2015 smearing me as a liar. She did not contact me.

The Times Hits Me With an Anti-SLAPP Motion
Image result for kelli sagerCalifornia’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law was designed to stop individuals and whistleblowers from being slammed by big corporations like real estate developers out to crush community activists by tying them up in court with frivolous defamation claims. After I sued the Times, Kelli Sager—a high-powered $715/hour attorney employed by such reputable enterprises as the National Enquirer to fend off legitimate libel lawsuits—hit me, a fired $300/week cartoonist, with an anti-SLAPP motion alleging that I was using my power and influence to deprive the Times of its First Amendment free speech rights. The Times is currently owned by Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, who is reportedly worth $7 billion. Soon-Shiong gets a lot of good press that he doesn’t deserve; he has continued to employ Sager.
Before the case begins, the anti-SLAPP motion must be resolved. First up: the trial court.

Superior Court
At trial court in Los Angeles, the Times filed a motion for summary judgement against me, arguing my claim to be frivolous. The judge at the time, who retired a few months later, denied the Times’ motion.
Switching tacks, Sager filed a motion demanding that I post $300,000 cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal fees in the event that it won anti-SLAPP and won a judgement that required me to pay the Times’ attorneys’ fees, because I live in New York and not California. The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Hundreds of people contributed to my GoFundMe. I posted bond. Every year I pay the bond company $1250 to hold the money.
After a blizzard of stalling tactics by Sager, Judge Joseph Kalin heard the anti-SLAPP motion in 2017. Just days before the second and third of three anti-SLAPP arguments, attorney Carney Shegarian abruptly fired me as his client. I do not know why. I quickly found a new attorney but Judge Kalin ruled that I had to represent myself against Sager in oral arguments.
Anti-SLAPP requires judges not to assess the evidence, but to assume that all the claims are true to see if the complaint has any merit. Kalin assessed the evidence, agreed that the audio enhancement showed I was innocent, and nonetheless ruled against me. He ordered me to pay the Times $330,000 for Sager’s fees.
I appealed.

Court of Appeal
Earlier in 2019 the Court of Appeal, also in Los Angeles, heard my appeal. Like Kalin, the Court of Appeal ignored the anti-SLAPP rule about assessing evidence. During oral argument Justice Elizabeth Grimes, seemed shocked when my attorney Jeff Lewis brought it up. Grimes ruled for the Times.
I appealed. The California Supreme Court accepts fewer than 5% of petitions for review so I was pleasantly surprised when they agreed to hear my appeal. Seven major First Amendment organizations issued amicus letters supporting my appeal to the state Supreme Court.
My petition was a “grant and hold,” which means it’s tied to the outcome of a related case, in this situation Stanley Wilson v. CNN. Wilson claims he was wrongly terminated and defamed by CNN as a ruse, with the real reason being race discrimination.

California Supreme Court
The high court ruled in favor of Wilson in a ruling that urges lower courts to grant discovery in anti-SLAPP cases, something that was denied us. That bodes well. We’re waiting to hear if the court remands us back to the Court of Appeal with instructions to rehear us in light of Wilson, or schedules oral arguments before them directly.
A favorable ruling by the Supreme Court would mean that the $330,000 judgement would be erased, we can begin discovery and, four-plus years after the fact, the actual case would commence.

Ted Rall vs. LA Times: Here’s Rall’s Appellate Brief Challenging the Times’ Nasty, Abusive “anti-SLAPP” Motions

Yesterday my attorneys filed, and California’s Court of Appeals accepted, our Appellate Brief in my defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times et al.

I sued in 2015. The Times filed three anti-SLAPP motions against me, halting the case because they’re scared of facing a jury and want to intimidate me. In 2017 a lower-court judge ruled for the Times, ordering me to pay them $350,000 in the Times’ attorneys fees. This document is our appeal of the 2017 decision.

If successful, the $350,000 judgement will be vacated and I can build my case to take to a jury.

If not, the $350,000 stands, plus more fees for the Times defense of this appeal. And my case dies. And Californians who work for media companies will have no recourse in the courts if their employer discriminates against them, even if they do so for racist or sexist or homophobic reasons.

Please read our brief below; it’s an interesting read. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions. Thank you for your incredible support!

 

Ted Rall vs. Los Angeles Times: anti-SLAPP Appellate Brief by Ted Rall

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.

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.”)

PRESS RELEASE: Cartoonist Ted Rall Claims LA Times “Adds Insult to Injury” with “Bullying Financial Demands” Following Alleged Defamation, Blacklisting and Wrongful Termination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cartoonist Ted Rall Claims LA Times Adds Insult to Injury with Bullying Financial Demands Following Alleged Defamation, Blacklisting and Wrongful Termination

LOS ANGELES—August 9, 2016 — Shegerian & Associates, Inc., a Santa Monica-based litigation law firm specializing in employee rights, has announced that the Los Angeles Times attempted to demand $300,000 in “legal fees” from its client, the cartoonist and author Ted Rall. Rall is currently suing the Times for defamation, blacklisting, wrongful termination and breach of contract.

Shegerian & Associates founder Carney Shegerian described the Times’ request for Rall to post $300,000 to guarantee the Times’ attorney fees in the event they should win their anti-SLAPP motion as a “bully move against a freelance cartoonist by a corporation that is egregiously inverting the very anti-SLAPP statute designed to protect employees from big corporations.”

The court has since ordered the Times to lower its request to $75,000.

“It feels almost like they are forcing me to ‘pay to play’ if I am to see my day in court,” said Rall. “You’d think after what happened, they would be issuing an apology and offering me my job back, not trying to bankrupt me after wrongfully firing me.”

Rall was originally hired by the Times as an editorial cartoonist in 2009 and published approximately 300 of his cartoons and more than 60 of his blog posts in the paper between 2009 and 2015. At no time during his employment was Rall disciplined or written-up and he was consistently praised for his work.

In May of 2015, Rall created, and the Times reviewed, approved and published, a cartoon titled, “LAPD’s Crosswalk Crackdown; Don’t Police Have Something Better to Do?” In the accompanying blog post criticizing the LAPD’s crackdown against jaywalking as reported by the Times, Rall referenced his own previous experience of being falsely arrested, unduly rough-housed and handcuffed by an LAPD officer allegedly for “jaywalking.”

In July of 2015, after the LAPD contacted The Times to question the accuracy of this cartoon and blog post, the Times decided to terminate Rall within 24 hours.

In his filed complaint, Rall explained that at no point did the Times allow him to speak to his regular supervisor, or to the editorial board to discuss his case — a violation of the Times’ Ethical Guidelines. Shortly after the termination, The Times published a rare “Note to Readers,” indicating that the paper had doubts about the veracity of Rall’s blog post due to an audio recording they obtained of Rall’s original jaywalking incident. The note also stated that the Times would no longer be publishing Rall’s work.

The Times failed to follow the standard of procedure for authenticating evidence and thus did not have grounds to publicly accuse Rall of falsifying information on his blog entry. After the Times’ note was published, Rall took it upon himself to have the audio examined by experts. The enhanced version of the audio supported Rall’s version of the encounter, and he presented this to the Times. Despite this exonerating evidence, the Times published yet another article further defaming Rall.

“The Times’ suspicions about the veracity of Mr. Rall’s blog post were unfounded in that they failed to properly investigate the accusations and refused to acknowledge proof that Mr. Rall’s blog post was, in fact, accurate,” said Shegerian. “The public defamation and subsequent blacklisting of our client following blatantly wrongful termination should be enough of a slap in Mr. Rall’s face, but the demand now for this freelance cartoonist to pay the Times’ legal fees in advance of a trial demonstrates that not only does the LA Times not play by its own rules employment-wise, as we will demonstrate in court, it behaves in a vindictive and unfair manner as well.”

(Case no. BC613703)

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Located in Santa Monica, Shegerian & Associates is a law firm specializing in protecting the rights of employees who have been wronged by their employers. Richly experienced in labor and employment law and possessing an unparalleled success record as litigators (Carney Shegerian, Trial Lawyer of the Year Award winner for 2013, has won 73 jury trials in his career, including 31 seven figure verdicts), Shegerian & Associates is passionately dedicated to serving the needs of its clients. For more information about the firm, visit www.ShegerianLaw.com

Media Contact: To arrange interviews about this case with Carney Shegerian or Ted Rall, please contact Paul Williams, 310/569-0023, paulwilliams@shegerianlaw.com.