Last month, I wrote about a defamation case brought by a doctor against a newspaper. This month, let’s talk about a lawyer who sued a newspaper on his own behalf. The old adage is that an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client.
Like the doctor in the other case, the lawyer didn’t like the newspaper’s reports about a controversy in which he was embroiled within a local chamber of commerce. The newspaper reported both sides of the controversy, including the lawyer’s.
However, the lawyer objected to the articles’ word choice, characterization of events and treatment of his comments. His retraction demand, as required under California Civil Code section 48a, was rejected, so he sued the newspaper’s foreign parent corporation in federal court.
He refused to dismiss the suit after being informed that the newspaper would file an Anti-SLAPP motion underCalifornia Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, on the ground that the reports were true and fair. Instead, he argued that the California law did not apply in federal court, contrary to what we told him.
In response to the suit, the paper filed the promised special motion to strike the complaint, specifically citing a federal case which found that California’s Anti-SLAPP statute applies to defamation actions in federal court. Obstinately, the lawyer still refused to dismiss his suit.
Instead he filed an opposition that cited a superseded federal case, while implicitly admitting that the substance, gist or sting of the reports was accurate. This implicit admission and the improperly cited case were pointed out in the newspaper’s reply to the lawyer’s opposition to the motion to strike. Finally, the lawyer dismissed his case.
The newspaper then asked the lawyer to pay its lawyers fees. He refused, saying that the case had been dismissed. However, dismissal of a case while an Anti-SLAPP motion is pending does not necessarily mean that the plaintiff will escape an attorneys fee award under CCP sec. 425.16(c). Upon realizing that this was the case, the lawyer then negotiated a discounted fee amount to avoid the risk of a higher award, thereby allowing the newspaper to return its attention to reporting the news, rather than making it.
Again, the moral of the story is don’t be too quick to sue the media. It’s bad enough for a defamation (libel) plaintiff to lose; it’s even worse to have to pay the newspaper’s attorneys fees.
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