Friday, October 25, 2013
S.C. Denies Review of Ruling Rejecting Extortion Claim in Suit Against Litigator Martin Singer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court has left standing a ruling that prominent litigator Martin Singer cannot be sued on allegations he threatened to expose a potential defendant’s sexual liaisons with an unnamed retired judge if the defendant did not settle a dispute with Singer’s client.
The justices, by a vote of 5-1 taken at Wednesday’s conference in San Francisco, denied plaintiff Michael Malin’s petition for review of Malin v. Singer (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 1283. Justice Joyce L. Kennard voted to grant review, while Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar was absent and did not participate.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye was joined by Justices Ming Chin, Marvin Baxter, Carol Corrigan and Goodwin Liu in voting not to hear the case.
Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal, in an opinion by Justice Stephen Suzukawa, ruled that Malin’s suit was barred by the anti-SLAPP law. The panel reversed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel’s ruling that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence of “extortion as a matter of law” to survive an anti-SLAPP motion.
Singer, who has been described in the press as a “pitbull” litigator and whose clients have included former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who was accused of molesting women he worked with in the film industry before entering politics—was sued along with his client, Shereene Arazm. Arazm was identified in the complaint as a general partner in a company owning restaurants and nightclubs, along with Malin and Lonnie Moore.
Malin alleged that he and Moore were falsely accused by Arazm and Singer of misappropriating assets, and that Singer tried to extort him by sending a demand letter that warned that his client “intends to file the enclosed lawsuit against you, Lonnie Moore, and various business entities that you and Mr. Moore control.”
The letter went on to include additional allegations of wrongdoing, and to warn that:
“Because Mr. Moore has also received a copy of the enclosed lawsuit, I have deliberately left blank spaces in portions of the Complaint dealing with your using company resources to arrange sexual liaisons with older men such as ‘Uncle Jerry,’ Judge [name redacted in the opinion], a/k/a ‘Dad’ (see enclosed photo), and many others. When the Complaint is filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court, there will be no blanks in the pleading.”
A photograph of the judge and a copy of the draft complaint were enclosed, the Court of Appeal explained in its opinion.
Justice Steven Suzukawa, writing for the Court of Appeal, distinguished two prior Court of Appeal cases holding that attorney demand letters were extortionate and therefore did not constitute protected activity for purposes of the statute.
The justice wrote:
“There are two problems with Malin’s argument. First, the ‘secret’ that would allegedly expose him and others to disgrace was inextricably tied to Arazm’s pending complaint. The demand letter accused Malin of embezzling money and simply informed him that Arazm knew how he had spent those funds. There is no doubt the demand letter could have appropriately noted that the filing of the complaint would disclose Malin had spent stolen monies on a car or a villa, if that had been the case. The fact that the funds were allegedly used for a more provocative purpose does not make the threatened disclosure of that purpose during litigation extortion. We cannot conclude that the exposure of Malin’s alleged activities would subject him to any more disgrace than the claim that he was an embezzler.
Second, to the extent that Malin contends the threatened disclosure of secrets affecting a third party, his alleged sexual partner, necessarily constitutes extortion, he is mistaken.”
Under Penal Code Sec. 519, the jurist explained, a threat to expose a third party’s secret in order to obtain money from the target is not extortion unless the third party is a relative of the target or a member of his family.
The justice went on to say that the extortion claim is barred by the litigation privilege. The appellate court’s decision leaves intact the plaintiff’s claims for violation of civil rights and infliction of mental distress, based on wiretapping, which the trial and appellate courts agreed does not constitute protected activity.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company