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.
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.