By Ted Rall- I was wronged. All I wanted was a trial by jury. Is this still America? No. America is dead.Apparently, not only have I been denied that fundamental right, I have been punished for having had the temerity to seek redress in the courts.
Justice is when wrongdoers are punished and victims are compensated. Instead, the California court system has provided anti-justice. The wrongdoers are getting off scot-free. I, the victim, am not merely being ignored or brushed off. I believe I am being actively punished.
The ruling in Ted Rall v. Los Angeles Times came down last week. The California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Times’ “anti-SLAPP” motion against me. Anti-SLAPP law supporters, including the Times, seem to think anti-SLAPP laws are supposed to be used by poor individuals to defend their First Amendment rights against big companies.
But that’s BS. The Times — owned by the $500 million Tronc Inc. when I filed suit, now owned by $7 billion biotechnology entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong — seems to have misused anti-SLAPP to destroy me.
My case was simple. I drew cartoons mocking the LAPD and the chief of the Times. The chief apparently asked a publisher to fire me and to smear me so I couldn’t work anymore. So the Times ran two pieces announcing that I’d been fired for supposedly lying in a blog post discussing a jaywalking arrest in 2001. I hadn’t lied.
It seemed the quote-unquote truth didn’t matter. What mattered were power, money and influence.
The ruling means my case will probably never go to trial. The court has already ordered me to pay the Times for its legal fees because, hey, a guy with $7 billion obviously needs and deserves to get cash from a cartoonist the Times used to pay $300 a week. That sum will definitely be higher — perhaps double — by the time the Times files the rest of its legal fees.
The ruling necessarily means my bankruptcy and/or being forced to leave the United States so I can continue to earn a living. This used to be the kind of thing that happened to journalists in other countries, not the U.S. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even get the American Civil Liberties Union behind me — apparently, because they don’t want to be seen as opposing the anti-SLAPP law.
I’m much luckier than Jamal Khashoggi — though the tactics deployed in my case make me pretty sure they would do the same thing to me if they could get away with it.
But the court’s real message isn’t directed toward me. What the court did in brazen deference to the LAPD and The LA Times and in direct opposition of the law was apparently to send a message to journalists in California: Do not mess with the cops and do not mess with a newspaper owned by the cops.
At a time when reporters who still get to work are grateful to merely see their salaries slashed rather than join the ranks of the unemployed, you’d have to be an idiot to criticize law enforcement.
There is one last slim reed of hope: the California Supreme Court. I am petitioning the high court to reverse the Court of Appeal’s anti-SLAPP ruling. But the odds are long. They hear fewer than 5 percent of appeals.
Since the start of my case, it has been painfully obvious that the fix was in. The courts treated me just like the Times did when they canned me: I felt like I was guilty until proven innocent and guilty even after having been proven innocent.
Pretzel logic has been a constant since 2015, when the Times ran a piece about me which read that “a man and a woman can be heard speaking in the background at one point, but only a few of their words are intelligible … (they) appear to be having a conversation unrelated to the jaywalking stop.” But if you can’t hear what they’re saying, how can you hear what they’re not saying?
I found the court’s ruling no more intelligent.
The anti-SLAPP law requires judges to consider a theoretical construct at the anti-SLAPP stage of a case. Without judging the evidence, assume that the plaintiff’s case is 100 percent as presented, 100 percent accurate, all his evidence 100 percent true. Then assume that nothing the defense says is true. Would there be a smidge of a case there? If yes, the case moves forward.
A couple decades ago, I wrote that the court system was the last functional branch of government, the final resting place of the proposition that injustice could be addressed even when the villain was powerful. Perhaps I was right then. It certainly isn’t true now.
Any American who trusts the court system is a fool.
Ted Rall, the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”