Now we’re waiting for the court to rule. Guesstimate is that it will happen in early 2019. If they rule for me (the plaintiff in Ted Rall v. LA Times et al.), anti-SLAPP is no longer an issue, the Times is out of stalling tactics, and we begin discovery: subpoenaing the Times’ secret documents and deposing their employees in preparation for trial in LA Superior Court.
If they rule for the Times (the defendant), my defamation and wrongful termination case ends. I will have to pay the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars in their padded $715-an-hour fees.
More importantly, losing my case would be a major defeat for anyone who works for what a California court defines as an employer of a “media company” with First Amendment rights: a newspaper, a magazine, a website, a social media platform, any number of Silicon Valley tech companies. If I lose, it means the Times’ argument that they can defame, retaliate and discriminate against their employers — even for sexist, racist or homophobic reasons — would become case law. Any “media” company in the state would become exempt from these important protections.
That’s why I’m fighting so hard. It’s not just for me. Tens of thousands of California workers, most of whom have never heard of me or my case, are in danger of losing their rights because of the Times’ reckless arguments.
In summer 2017 the Times won its abusive anti-SLAPP motions against me in LA Superior Court. We believe that Court made a number of errors in its decision that will be corrected when the Court of Appeals considers my case “de novo” — without considering the decision of the lower court.
Earlier this summer we filed our Opening Brief in the Court of Appeals. The Times filed its Respondents Brief. Now we’ve filed our response to their brief. There will be no more filings.
Next the Court will schedule oral arguments. They will either rule from the bench right there and then or issue their decision in writing shortly thereafter.
Some of you have asked whether Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, the biotechnology entrepreneur and physician who purchased the Times earlier this year, has tried to resolve my case. The answer is no. Upon acquiring the Times Dr. Soon-Shiong said he intended to turn over a new leaf at an institution infamous for mismanagement and corruption; we still have yet to see any sign of improvement.
Thank you for your support. The fight for a free press continues.
“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.”
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.
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.)
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.
I am happy to announce that storied litigator Roger Lowenstein will represent me in my lawsuit against The Los Angeles Times.
Assuming that my case survives the Times’ anti-SLAPP motions at the Court of Appeals level, Roger will handle the subsequent trial at Los Angeles Superior Court.
Roger will work alongside appellate attorney Jeffrey Lewis, whose representation I announced previously, at the appeals stage.
Confused? It’s supposed to be confusing!
Appellate courts are discrete from the “regular” trial courts. They have their own appellate courts and there are attorneys who only handle the appellate stage.
The regular trial court stage of anti-SLAPP is complete in my case. (We continue to await the court’s decision on two out of three of the Times’ anti-SLAPP motions.)
Next comes the Court of Appeals stage of anti-SLAPP. Jeff and Roger will work together on that.
If I make it past the appellate level of anti-SLAPP, we prepare for trial with discovery, subpoenas, etc. Roger will work as counsel there.
If there’s a verdict and an appeal, that would go back to the Court of Appeals, and then perhaps to the California State Supreme Court, and then maybe even SCOTUS.
I would prefer a quick resolution to this matter. So far, however, the Times seems completely unwilling to consider admitting that they screwed up in my case. Instead of doing the right thing and issuing a retraction and giving me back my job, they’re continuing to libel me with every second that those two libelous articles stay online, and fighting tooth and nail with a zillion ridiculous legal gambits — because they certainly can’t rely on the truth to help with their defense. So I’m prepared for this to go on a long time.
I hope I count on your support.
If you’d like to help defray my massive court costs and travel expenses — which I pay out-of-pocket — please contribute to my GoFundMe or support my work via Patreon.
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.
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.
There’s a scene in the movie “Idiocracy” in which a character cheers as cops blow a car to smithereens. “That’s your car!” another, less dumb, character points out. The idiot, a lawyer named Frito, keeps cheering.
I felt kind of like the less-dumb guy in Los Angeles Superior Court a week ago, when I watched a lawyer for the Los Angeles Times defame me and twist the facts to a level rarely seen outside a White House press briefing.
I was Kelli Sager’s victim. Sager, a partner at the pro-business law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, is a shark. She argued before a judge that the Times was right to knowingly lie about me in its pages, that the First Amendment meant the Times was immune from defamation and libel law, and that I should pay the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars for their legal fees for having had the temerity to sue them.
And, she was successful (for the time being). It was strangely thrilling to watch a professional — granted, a professional dissembler for a newspaper corrupted beyond belief — at the top of her game.
For decades, the Los Angeles Times was one of the best newspapers in the United States. It was arguably the best full-service paper — like the New York Times, LA had all the foreign bureaus and deep national and local coverage required of a great news organization, along with the features New York doesn’t carry but readers like me enjoy: comics, horoscopes and advice columns.
Every newspaper has struggled to adapt to the Internet. But the LA Times has had more trouble than most. If I were in charge, I’d rebrand it. The New York Times is the national paper of news and culture, the Washington Post is the national paper of politics, the Wall Street Journal is the national paper of business, and the Los Angeles Times ought to be the national paper of entertainment — movies, music and gaming. Instead, the LA Times is doing things the same way they did in 1997, but less so.
Things turned from bad to worse in 2000, when the Tribune Company (as in the Chicago Tribune) acquired the Times. Flailing ensued. The Times’ idiocy culminated in 2005 with “Wikitorial,” a bizarre experiment that allowed readers to add to editorial content. In 2007 Tribune sold itself to real estate mogul Sam Zell, who ran up debt, sucked money out of the company and “busted” it, declaring bankruptcy a year later. It was the beginning of the end.
I began working for the Times in 2009.
Desperate for cash, the Times turned to a sketchy Los Angeles financier and billionaire with no journalistic experience, Austin Beutner, naming him as publisher in 2014. Beutner, a political ally of the LAPD who received an award for “support [to] the LAPD in all that they do” from the LAPD union months after taking over the Times, appears to have midwifed the first known acquisition of a major American newspaper by a government agency: the LAPD union moved its $16.4 billion pension fund to a Beverly Hills investment firm called Oaktree Capital, which then became the #1 shareholder of Tribune, the Times’ parent company.
The Times has been busy in court. They’re also fighting a pair of age discrimination lawsuits filed by a sports columnist and a Pulitzer-winning reporter who say the Times tried to save money by harassing them into quitting their jobs.
Nothing is sure in life or in court, but I feel confident than a jury would agree with me that what the Times did to me was wrong. I think Kelli Sager, the Times’ lawyer agrees. Which is why she’s been working hard to keep my case away from a jury.
On June 21, Sager fed the judge a bunch of nonsense, but two things she said during oral arguments especially blew me away.
Referencing the first of two articles which falsely accused me of being a fabulist, Sager told the judge that the Times had included links to LAPD records (they’re not really from the LAPD but that’s another story) so Times readers could judge for themselves. No, actually, they didn’t. No one objected.
Sager even brought up race. She accused me, as a white man, of falsely accusing the African-American cop who arrested me for jaywalking in 2001 of misconduct —because he was black.
The mind boggles.
As we walked down the escalator, my lawyer remarked that I had never told her the cop was black. “Because I never mentioned it,” I told her. “Because it wasn’t important.”
I’m in awe.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
I got a taste yesterday of how Gary Webb, another victim of the LA Times’ corrupt relationships with sleazy government entities, may have felt. Here’s an update on my defamation and wrongful termination case against the LA Times:
Perhaps in order to run up her legal fees, LA Times attorney Kelli Sager split the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motions against me into three tranches of defendants, each with its own set of documents and hearing dates.
Yesterday LA Superior Court ruled in favor of the Times’ anti-SLAPP motion regarding the four individuals: fired former publisher and billionaire Austin Beutner, a political ally of the LAPD union who received a patrolman’s personal LAPD files in a secret meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that the Times refused to disclose to readers; editorial page editor Nick Goldberg, who authored a piece announcing my firing and calling me a liar, and then ignored evidence that he was mistaken; readers’ representative ombudsman Deirdre Edgar, who authored a second piece calling me a liar that itself contained multiple lies about said evidence; and reporter Paul Pringle, who failed a reporters’ basic responsibility to fully investigate the matter despite being assigned to do so.
This decision can be appealed to the Court of Appeals.
Next week, at 9 am on July 28th at LA Superior Court, the same court will consider the Times’ second tranche of anti-SLAPP motions, these for the corporate entities the LA Times and its parent company Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing).
Anti-SLAPP was designed by the California state legislature to protect individuals expressing their free speech rights from being silenced by deep-pocketed corporations using frivolous lawsuits to intimidate them and others. Ironically, the Times — owned by Tronc, a $420 million corporation — is abusing the statute to try to destroy me, their former $300/week cartoonist.
Until anti-SLAPP is resolved, discovery is not allowed. I have to prove, without discovery, that I am likely to prevail before a jury. If the Times ultimately prevails on anti-SLAPP, I would be ordered to pay the Times’ legal fees, which the Times said last year would amount to at least $300,000.
Here’s the latest on my defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times.
At the first of three hearings to consider the Times’ anti-SLAPP motions against me, the judge in the case chastised both the Times’ and my attorneys for violating court rules governing page counts.
The problem began because Times’ attorney Kelli Sager submitted a 27.5 page anti-SLAPP motion against me, asking the court to dismiss my suit and award the Times’ its six-figure legal bill. Court rules limit the page count to 15.
We adhered to the 15-page limit, but it wasn’t possible to reply to 27.5 pages of argument with 15 pages. So in order to effectively counter the Times’ 27.5 page motion, we used a smaller font size.
According to Law360.com: “At the start of the hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon announced she was continuing the hearings on all three motions to future dates and asked that the parties respectively submit amended court filings ‘in compliance with court’s rules and without appendices and footnotes.’ The refiled documents should not exceed 20 pages, she said. ‘I just want both of you to adhere to the California Rules of Court, that’s all I’m saying,’ Judge Sanchez-Gordon said. ‘I’m continuing this because I could not get through [them], I’m sorry.'”
Both the Times and I will resubmit revised anti-SLAPP and opposition to anti-SLAPP motions, respectively, to the court for hearings to be held in June and July.
“Many cartoonists in the States will watch what ensues with interest, considering it a timely test of the First Amendment,” reports Cartoonist Rights Network International.
The LA Times was expecting good news yesterday: that, because I’d be unable to raise $75,000 cash bond to continue my lawsuit for defamation and wrongful termination, and defend myself from their perverted “anti-SLAPP” motion.
Sadly for them, they were informed that the bond had been filed and had been received by the court. Thanks to more than 750 contributions through my GoFundMe crowdfunding page, my case will move forward.
In the Times’ ongoing attempt to prevent a jury from hearing about their sleazy collusion with the Los Angeles Police Department and repeated lies to Times readers, attorney Kelli Sager, however, complained that the bond “had omitted several defendants who are part of the litigation” and “said she was concerned the omissions would prevent the defendants from enforcing the bond.” The space on the form doesn’t have enough room for all the defendants in the case.
The judge ordered Sager and my attorneys to confer in order to fix the bureaucratic detail.
My attorney Carney Shegerian Carney Shegerian called the Times’ anti-SLAPP motion “borderline frivolous.”
“The thinking behind it, unfortunately, is really you just scare plaintiffs because there’s a huge fee-shifting component to it that can be applied and so plaintiffs can get very scared,” Shegerian told Courthouse News Service. “It really just chills civil rights litigation and it chills defamation litigation like this one.”
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.