Cartoonist Slugs It Out|With L.A. Times in Court

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – After crowd-funding $75,000 for his defamation claim against the Los Angeles Times, cartoonist Ted Rall has to persuade a judge not to throw out his lawsuit on free speech grounds.
     On May 13, the Times filed an Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion against Rall, under a law created to protect free speech.
     The Times seeks dismissal of the 52-year-old cartoonist’s allegations that the newspaper stopped using his freelance work after taking issue with his column about a jaywalking confrontation with a motorcycle cop.
     Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon ordered Rall to pay a $75,000 bond against the Times’ attorney fees, should the newspaper prevail.
     Rall turned to crowd-funding site GoFundMe, posting a video in which he said that if he failed to post the bond by Thursday, Aug. 18 the judge would dismiss his case.
     “People who know me know I don’t shy away from a fight and this is no exception. But I can’t do this alone because I don’t have $75,000 sitting around,” Rall said.
     Attorneys for the Times and Rall appeared in court Tuesday afternoon and Sanchez-Gordon confirmed that Rall posted bond last week. But the newspaper’s attorney Kelli Sager said the cartoonist had omitted several defendants who are part of the litigation.
     Sager, with Davis Wright, said she was concerned the omissions would prevent the defendants from enforcing the bond.
     Rall’s attorney Nare Avagyan, who appeared via telephone, accused Sager of making “superfluous arguments” to stall the case. The judge ordered the parties to meet and confer before they return to court in September.
     Rall, whose syndicated cartoons appear in about 100 U.S. newspapers, was president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in 2008-2009. He sued the Times and its corporate owner Tribune Company in March, claiming the paper fired him after questioning the accuracy of an opinion piece he had written about the 2001 jaywalking incident.
     In a 2015 blog post, Rall said a motorcycle cop had handcuffed and roughed him up and thrown his wallet into the sewer.
     Rall’s columns and cartoons had poked fun at the LAPD and Police Chief Charlie Beck, and he says the LAPD had an ax to grind when it gave the Times a poor quality recording that appeared to contradict his version of the events.
     Editor Nicholas Goldberg wrote in a note to readers that a Times investigation raised “serious questions about the accuracy of Rall’s blog post” and said the paper would no longer publish his work.
     In court filings, the Times says Goldberg’s comments were protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and that its editorial decision to stop publishing Rall’s freelance work is also protected.
     Rall says an enhanced version of the LAPD tape reveals a passerby stating that officer should take off the handcuffs, and the sounds of a crowd of observers. The Times said that its own enhancement supports its decision.
     “I took that proof to the LA Times but they didn’t listen,” Rall said. “I was fired. I was smeared as a liar and a fabulist inside the pages of the LA Times in front of millions of people and they stuck with their story even though they knew that they were wrong.”
     Rall’s attorney 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 said last week in a telephone interview. “It really just chills civil rights litigation and it chills defamation litigation like this one.”
     The attorneys are to return to court at 9 a.m. on Oct. 6.

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