Thursday, September 1, 2016
C.A. Tosses Disbarred Solicitor’s Privacy Suit as SLAPP
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has ordered dismissal of a disbarred lawyer’s invasion-of-privacy suit against the Daily Mail, saying it threatened the British tabloid’s free speech rights.
Div. Three ruled Monday that Associated Newspapers Limited, which publishes the Daily Mail, was entitled to have Shahrokh Mireskandari’s entire suit stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute. The decision partially reversed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gerald Rosenberg, who had granted the company’s anti-SLAPP motion as to claims for common law intrusion and statutory information theft, but allowed a claim for false-light invasion of privacy to go forward.
Presiding Justice Lee S. Edmon authored the panel’s unpublished opinion.
The Daily Mail reported in two 2012 stories that Mireskandari had faked his legal qualifications from a mail-drop university in Hawaii, concealed criminal convictions, and bilked his clients. The paper also reported that he took a “leading role” in a fraudulent telemarketing business in Ventura in the early 1990s.
He was described as “a convicted conman with bogus legal qualifications” and as a “a fraudster who had conned his way into the UK legal profession.”
In April 2012, in between the publication of the first and second story, he sued Associated Newspapers, Los Angeles-based Daily Mail reporter David Gardner, and others in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging the defendants had illegally gathered personal information about him. Among other rulings, the district judge granted an anti-SLAPP motion with leave to amend as to claims for intrusion and information theft, but denied it as to false light invasion of privacy.
Mireskandari reasserted all of those claims in an amended complaint, but voluntarily dismissed the entire action without prejudice after a second anti-SLAPP motion was filed.
In his superior court complaint, filed in March 2014, he alleged that Gardner and two London-based reporters for the paper set out to “destroy” him, in retaliation for his challenges to racially discriminatory practices by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which regulates English and Welsh solicitors. He claimed the defendants “hacked into” confidential educational records, eavesdropped on his phone calls, and published information leaked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and bribed clients and attorneys to make false statements about him.
The statutory claim asserted that the defendants violated Penal Code §502 by accessing and disseminating confidential information from the website of the National Student Clearinghouse regarding Mireskandari’s educational qualifications.
In support of its motion to strike, the defense presented evidence regarding disbarment proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. That body found, among other things, that Mireskandari had flunked out of Whittier and University of West Los Angeles law schools, claimed a “Doctorate of Jurisprudence” from the bogus Hawaiian university, and falsely claimed that he had, between 1995 and 1997, handled “English cases” for a California lawyer, who said he had done no such thing.
The tribunal also noted that Mireskandari attended Whittier during the same time period in which he allegedly took classes in Hawaii, which was the same period in which he alleged he had worked fulltime for the California lawyer. The tribunal also found that he had been convicted of 15 crimes in connection with the Ventura County scheme, contrary to his representation to the regulation authority that he had never been convicted of a crime.
Trial Court Ruling
In ruling on the anti-SLAPP motion, Rosenberg concluded that the plaintiff was unlikely to prevail on the intrusion or §502 claims, but had established a probability he would prevail on the false-light claim.
In opposition to the defendants’ appeal, the plaintiff argued that the false-light cause of action arose from conduct that was criminal, and thus not protected by Code of Civil Procedure §425.16, and that the trial judge correctly found he was likely to prevail, even if the claim arose from protected activity.
Edmon, however, said Mireskandari could not prevail because he had to prove falsity, and the claims he was a “conman” and a “fraudster,” that his “legal credentials” were “bogus,” and that he engaged in “conning,” were too subjective and imprecise to be proven false. Besides, the jurist said, the claim was subject to the affirmative defense that the reporting was “substantially true,” because Mireskandari had in fact obtained his right to practice through fraudulent means and had been found guilty by a criminal court of involvement in a fraudulent scheme.
The jurist also said that the “criminal conduct” exception laid out in Flatley v. Mauro (2006) 39 Cal.4th 299 did not apply.
“As Associated Newspapers correctly notes, Mireskandari’s false light claim is based on the publication of newsworthy material, not the gathering of such material,” she wrote. “…Mireskandari does not (and cannot) argue that the publication of news articles is criminal conduct.”
Attorneys on appeal were Roger J. Diamond, along with Esner, Chang & Boyer’s Stuart B. Esner and Joseph S. Persoff for the plaintiff and Kelli L. Sager, Mary H. Haas, Nicolas A. Jampol and Dan Laidman of Davis Wright Tremaine for the defendants.
The case is Mireskandari v. Associated Newspapers Limited, B262942.
Mireskandari was represented briefly, at an early stage of the litigation, by the international law firm of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, which he sued for malpractice. That case reached the Court of Appeal two years ago, the panel ruling that the plaintiff’s attorneys had a possible claim of privilege with regard to communications between themselves and another lawyer in the same firm, whom they consulted in response to the client’s threat to sue them.
Los Angeles Superior Court records show that case is still pending.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company