(CN) — Anti-SLAPP attorney fees awarded to a newspaper conglomerate as part of its legal battle with an Iranian-American attorney will stand, the Ninth Circuit ruled.
Shahrokh Mireskandari is a former partner in London firm Dean & Dean but was disbarred in England after an investigation by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority suggested that he was involved in a fraudulent telemarketing scheme.
Mireskandari claims the investigation was prompted by his efforts to prove that the Authority investigates minority attorneys more vigorously than white ones.
However, according to articles published by the British tabloid the Daily Mail — which is owned by Associated Newspapers (now known as DMG Media) — Mireskandari obtained his law qualifications from a mail-drop university in Hawaii and ran a telemarketing scam that misled people into believing they had won vacations.
Mireskandari sued Associated Newspapers in federal court, claiming the publisher invaded his privacy by hacking his phone, bribing public officials, breaking into his home and accessing his education records.
Associated Newspapers moved to strike the complaint and largely succeeded, and the court awarded it anti-SLAPP attorney fees.
SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation," and anti-SLAPP laws are meant to curtail frivolous or malicious lawsuits that have the potential to chill free speech.
Mireskandari voluntarily dismissed his claim in federal court, but the case is still proceeding in California state courts.
Both Associated Newspapers and Mireskandari appealed to a panel of the Ninth Circuit.
Associated Newspapers argued for a reversal of the district court's denial of its motion to dismiss two of Mireskandari's claims, hoping to collect more attorney fees.
But the issue is now moot, the Ninth Circuit three-judge panel determined, because Mireskandari dismissed the complaint and a claim for attorney fees does not revive it.
Mireskandari, on the other hand, argued that attorney fees were inappropriate because the publisher did not succeed on all of its motions to strike.
"Mireskandari wrongly asserts that [Associated Newspapers'] attorney's fees had to be reduced because it did not prevail on the whole of its anti-SLAPP motion," the panel wrote in its 6-page memorandum, published Tuesday. "We cannot say that the district court abused its discretion when it determined that on balance [Associated Newspapers] was highly successful, and that no reduction for failure to fully prevail was required."
Mireskandari also argued that he should not have been sanctioned for past breaches of court scheduling and pretrial orders because he dismissed his complaint.
"We see no justification for holding that a voluntary dismissal precludes issuance of a sanctions order," the panel wrote. "To the extent that he suggests that a sanction for violating a scheduling or other pretrial order is not collateral to the merits of the action, we disagree."
Associated Newspapers was represented by Nicolas Andreas Jampol from Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Los Angeles.
Mireskandari was represented by Robert Moest and Roger Jon Diamond, both of Santa Monica, California.
None of the attorneys could be reached for comment.
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