Monday, June 10, 2013
Court of Appeal Rules:
Lawsuits Spawned by Beauty Pageant Remarks Not SLAPPs
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has upheld a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s rulings that two lawsuits arising from Carrie Prejean’s infamous same-sex marriage comments at the 2009 Miss Universe pageant were not strategic lawsuits against public participation.
Rancho Santa Fe attorney Charles LiMandri, who represented Prejean in litigation filed in the aftermath of those comments, is suing attorney James D. Nguyen, now a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine; Nguyen’s former firm, Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon; and former Miss California USA executive director Shanna Moakler. He claims the defendants breached confidentiality agreements that were signed following mediation of claims by Prejean against Moakler and others for defamation, invasion of privacy, and religious discrimination.
The defendants’ motions to strike LiMandri’s complaints were largely denied by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael C. Solner, who ruled that LiMandri made out a prima facie case against the attorneys and Moakler for breach of contract and bad faith. Solner granted the attorney defendants’ motion to strike a claim for fraudulent inducement, and the Court of Appeal rejected LiMandri’s cross-appeal from that ruling.
Turn of Events
Thursday’s ruling by Div. Two on four consolidated appeals is the latest turn in a series of events that began when Prejean, who had qualified for the event by winning the Miss California USA pageant, was asked by gay pageant judge Perez Hilton whether she felt same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in every state.
“Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And, you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.”
Prejean finished second in the Miss Universe pageant, and several judges said her comments were part of the reason she did not win. She was subsequently terminated as Miss California USA, leading to her lawsuits against Moakler, fellow pageant director Keith Lewis, and others.
Those suits became the subject of JAMS mediation in New York, for which the parties signed a confidentiality agreement prepared by JAMS. During the mediation, according to evidence presented in connection with the anti-SLAPP motions in the current litigation, Nguyen—who was representing Lewis—showed Prejean, LiMandri, and the mediator a compromising video and photographs of Prejean.
The mediation resulted in a settlement of all claims. As part of the settlement agreement, which contained a confidentiality clause, LiMandri was designated as a party to the agreement and was entitled to receive $110,000. The agreement also provided that the compromising material—which Prejean, now 26, has since explained she sent to a then-boyfriend when she was 17—was to be destroyed and its existence never disclosed.
The day after the settlement was reached, TMZ reported that Prejean had originally demanded more than $1 million but agreed to settle for a “big fat zero” when she learned that the other side had “an XXX home video of her handiwork.” The report also mentioned that LiMandri was due around $100,000.
Similar reports subsequently appeared in other media, and TMZ later followed up with a report that gave more specific details of what supposedly transpired during the mediation, including the shocked reactions of Prejean and her mother when the sex tape was revealed.
LiMandri subsequently sued for bad-faith breach of the settlement agreement and the JAMS confidentiality agreement, as well as fraudulent inducement.
Presiding Justice Roger Boren, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, said the suit did not implicate the defendants’ First Amendment rights because there is “no precedent permitting parties to confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements or their attorneys to speak publicly after expressly forfeiting their right to do so.”
The jurist noted that the attorneys were expressly made parties to the confidentiality agreements, and said it was “intolerable to imagine that an attorney can freely violate the promise of confidentiality that binds his client.”
He cited an interview that Nguyen—who is also an activist in the LGBT community, according to a biography on Davis Wright Tremaine’s website—gave with the gay magazine The Advocate, saying the sex tape had exposed Prejean “as a hypocrite.”
Nguyen thus exposed the very information he and his client had agreed to conceal, Boren said.
The case is LiMandri v. Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, LLP, B234460.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company