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Wednesday, November 21 , 2018, 12:51 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Ted Rall: I Represented Myself Pro Se In Court. Here’s What Happened

For a cartoonist, I turned out to be a fairly decent lawyer. But I didn't want to represent myself. It took two vicious lawyers to force me to put me in that position.

One of those lawyers was mine. 

I'm suing the Times because they repeatedly, knowingly and intentionally defamed me after firing me after I'd criticized a thin-skinned pol in my editorial cartoons.

The paper responded by turning California's "anti-SLAPP" law, designed to protect people like me against corporations like the Times, on its head; this $400 million corporation is accusing me — a five-figure income cartoonist — of oppressing its First Amendment rights by using my vast wealth to intimidate them.

Before my case is allowed to begin in earnest, anti-SLAPP requires a plaintiff (me) to convince a judge that, if everything I allege in my lawsuit turns out to be true, I'd likely win before a trial jury. But anti-SLAPP is as confusing as French grammar, so many judges interpret the law much more harshly than it's actually written. 

All the lawyers I talked to told me that I'd almost certainly win at trial if my case survived anti-SLAPP and made it to a jury. Ironically, getting past anti-SLAPP would be our toughest challenge.

The lawyer who took my case agreed with this assessment. But when oral arguments for the first of the Times' three anti-SLAPPs against me took place on June 21 in LA Superior Court, his firm inexplicably assigned a junior associate to take on a high-powered attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience. 

I liked my junior associate. She's smart and may someday become a great lawyer. But she was no match for the lawyer of the Times. My lawyer couldn't begin to articulate my case, much less sway the judge. I lost that round.

Determined not to lose the all-important important hearing number two, I asked my law firm to meet for a strategy session. Bafflingly, they refused to confer or to send a more senior litigator to the next one. 

Then my firm fired me — days before that key anti-SLAPP hearing.

So I was forced to rep myself in pro per (that's what they call pro se in California) on July 14.

My heart was pounding as I approached the plaintiff's table. And I'm an experienced speaker!

I've held my own on FoxNews. I've spoken to audiences of hundreds of people. I've hosted talk-radio shows. Yet dropping dead of a heart attack felt like a real possibility. I can't imagine what this would feel like for someone unaccustomed to arguing in public.

The judge asked me to proceed. I nervously worked from prepared notes, explaining why my case wasn't a "SLAPP" case. I attacked the Times' argument that their libelous articles were "privileged" under anti-SLAPP because they were merely "reporting" on "official police records" about my 2001 jaywalking arrest.

If they'd been "reporting," the articles would have had to follow the Times' Ethical Guidelines, which ban anonymous sources, require careful analysis of evidence and calling subjects of criticism for comment. They didn't come close. These weren't news stories or even opinion pieces; they were hit jobs. 

Much of the discussion was about legal minutiae rather than the broad strokes of what my case is about.

There's also the big picture: if a newspaper's parent company sells its stock to the police, how can readers trust that newspaper not to suppress criticism of the police?

Do Black Lives really Matter if investigations of police brutality don't always make it to print, if writers and cartoonists have learned they can get fired and libeled if they annoy the cops?

I will soon receive a transcript of the hearing. I will post it at Rall.com. 

On June 21, the judge ruled against my erstwhile lawyer directly from the bench. 

On July 14, I at least gave the judge something to think about. He took the matter "under consideration."

I await his decision.

Ted Rall is the author of Bernie, a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography Trump, comes out July 19 and is now available for pre-order. Click here to contact him, and follow him on Twitter: @TedRall. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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