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Bad Faith Is Plaintiff’s Undoing in ABC Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge chided a plaintiff for his "persistent course of bad-faith litigation conduct" in a copyright case over a clip that appeared on the ABC news program "20/20."

Gregory Slate had filmed the footage for the Police Complaint Center (PCC) as part of a Chicago-based hidden-camera investigation that it orchestrated with ABC, according to the ruling.

Soon after Slate turned the footage over to ABC in late 2007, he and the PCC parted ways in an apparent dispute over a lack of credit for his work.

By March 2008, Slate had registered certain portions of his Chicago footage with the U.S. Copyright Office and wrote to an ABC producer, purporting to withdraw any license to use any portion of his footage for any purpose.

ABC ignored that demand and aired about 40 seconds of Slate's footage in a May 2008 episode of "20/20."

Slate filed suit the following year, but U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell dismissed the action Tuesday as a sanction for Slate's bad-faith conduct during the litigation.

Howell highlighted one fabricated letter that could have helped Slate's case but for the fact it references events that had not yet occurred as of its Aug. 21, 2006, date.

"In particular, the letter contains an explicit reference to the plaintiff 'receiving an Emmy Award for Investigative Journalism,' even though the referenced project which eventually was awarded the Emmy was not even nominated for that award until over a month after the letter was purportedly sent, and the plaintiff's name was not added to the team eligible to receive the Emmy until December 11, 2006 (approximately four months after the letter was purportedly sent)," the ruling states. "In response to this damning proof, the plaintiff weakly asserts that his reference to the Emmy in the letter was 'a bit of puffery,' and he erroneously asserts that '[a]t this point, Slate had become an Emmy Award Nominated Journalist.' This glaring historical inconsistency cannot be explained by '[t]he fact that Slate slightly overstated his credentials,' as the plaintiff proposes. Rather, even giving the plaintiff every reasonable inference, the letter's reference to the plaintiff's receipt of the Emmy is clear and convincing proof that the letter was fabricated after the fact, and the plaintiff has provided no explanation to rebut that conclusion."

Slate's misdeeds did not end there, according to the ruling, which notes another incident in which he apparently produced "discovery documents in a soiled envelope that had the strong odor of excrement."

"The court cannot be sure what motivated the plaintiff to engage in the unusual, and often times improper, behavior discussed above," Howell wrote. "What is pellucidly clear from the totality of the plaintiff's conduct, however, is the plaintiff's lack of respect for the federal judicial process. Litigating a case in federal court is a privilege that requires conformance with the rules."

Dismissal of the action is also appropriate since merely excluding the fabricated evidence would "send the plaintiff, and future litigants like him, the message that 'they have everything to gain, and nothing to lose,' by continuing to submit fabricated evidence," according to the ruling.

Howell also awarded ABC summary judgment on the merits, saying Slate cannot claim that it was contracting for his personal work product since the network reasonably believed that it was working with PCC.

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