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Saturday, August 24, 2019

California court upholds motions to strike cartoonist/blogger's wrongful termination suit against LA Times, others


By Charmaine Little | Feb 8, 2019

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – Political cartoonist and blogger Frederick Theodore Rall III lost his appeal against Los Angeles Times Communications as the publication and its related entities were granted their motions for an anti-SLAPP to strike his lawsuit altogether.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California in the 2nd Appellate District in Division Eight affirmed the opinion of the Superior Court of Los Angeles on Jan. 17, granting Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, related entities and individual defendants their anti-strategic lawsuit against public participant (SLAPP) requests. 

Judge Beth Grimes authored the opinion and judges Tricia Bigelow and Maria E. Stratton confirmed.

Justice Beth Grimes | California courts

Rall sued the defendants over allegations of defamation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy in 2016 after the publication issued a statement about one of his blog posts. The ruling states the Times wrote a note to readers that there were concerns about the accuracy of Rall's blog post, that it should not have reached publication status, and that Rall’s work would no longer be featured in the publication.

Rall sued, the defendants responded with a motion to strike his lawsuit via an anti-SLAPP motion, and the lower court granted the motion. Rall appealed, and the appeals court agreed with the defendants.

“In sum, we cannot find the Times articles to be anything other than a fair and true report of an LAPD investigation that was central to the substance of the articles, and accordingly absolutely privileged,” the appeals court said of the defamation claim. “Consequently, plaintiff cannot establish a probability of prevailing on his defamation claims.”

As for the wrongful termination, via the statement the publication made that it wouldn’t publish any more of Rall’s content, the Appeals Court said it was within its First Amendment rights to publish or not publish what it chooses.

“The Times’s decision not to publish plaintiff’s cartoons and blogs is not ‘just evidence of liability’ and it is not a ‘step leading to some different act for which liability is asserted,” the ruling states.

The blog post in question was published in May 2015. In his post, Rall detailed what he said was his own experience with getting a ticket by the Los Angeles Police Department for jaywalking in 2001, including an allegation that an officer tossed his driver’s license into the sewer. He said he filed a complaint and was told a few months later that it had been dismissed, the ruling states.

The publication then published a note to its readers the following July. The ruling states LAPD had provided records to the Times about the incident Rall wrote about in his post, including an audiotape.

"The note to readers stated the audiotape 'does not back up [plaintiff’s] assertions; it gives no indication that there was physical violence of any sort by the policeman or that [plaintiff’s] license was thrown into the sewer or that he was handcuffed. Nor is there any evidence on the recording of a crowd of shouting onlookers,” the ruling states.

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