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Student Blogger Loses Defamation Case 289

Posted by kdawson
from the small-claims-is-a-bear dept.
An anonymous reader writes to tell us about Yaman Salahi, a UC Berkeley student and blogger, who lost a lawsuit brought against him by Lee Kaplan, a journalist for FrontPageMag.com. Kaplan had sued Salahi in California small claims court for tortious business interference and libel, in response to a blog Salahi had set up about him called "Lee Kaplan Watch." Salahi lost in small claims court and then lost an "appeal" — which is essentially a retrial by another small-claims judge. No written opinion was offered with either decision, though all other court filings are available. From Salahi's update on his blog: "...because [Kaplan] sued me in small claims court, I did not have the protections of the anti-SLAPP [Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Policy] statute... I will never know why I lost the initial hearing, or why I lost the appeal, because small claims judges are not obligated to release written opinions with their rulings.... I will never have the opportunity to take this to a real appellate court where my first amendment rights might be protected."
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Student Blogger Loses Defamation Case

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  • Countersuit?

    --Rob

    • You have a duty to bring all causes relevant in the original action. The matter is decided and the doctrine of "res judicata" precludes relitigating the same matter. But if someone argues that the case has issues that are still viable there is always "collateral estoppel" - issue/claim preclusion to shut down another action.

      Besides, small claims and de novo review of a small claims action are not courts of record and this whole business is trivial beyond most /. CowboyNeil poll answers.

      Let it be....
  • From his site (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Henry V .009 (518000) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:02PM (#19535689) Journal

    I would also like to add that if you or anybody you know is ever sued by Lee Kaplan or his questionable affiliates, you should contact a lawyer immediately to explore any and all available options. The earlier the better. Some ideas you might want to look into: (1) countersuing in an amount that is sufficient enough to move the case out of small claims court (greater than $7,500 in California) and/or (2) removing the case to federal court on the grounds of a first-amendment defense.


    Looks like things would have gone better if he hadn't made some legal mistakes.
    • Re:From his site (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gurps_npc (621217) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:05PM (#19535711) Homepage
      You consider that to be a 'legal mistake'?

      It looks to me like instead a complicated legal maneuver designed to get around a clear hole in the fairness of the legal system.

      I would not consider failing to countersue or failing to move the court to be a legal mistake, using the definition of mistake as failure to engage in proper actions.

      • by Henry V .009 (518000) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:10PM (#19535743) Journal
        Yes I consider it a legal mistake. Not contacting a lawyer is the most basic legal mistake there is.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dachannien (617929)
          Actually, that would be not showing up to court, which, coincidentally, is how Salahi lost the case the first time around.
        • Re:From his site (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dircha (893383) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:50PM (#19535997)
          "Not contacting a lawyer is the most basic legal mistake there is."

          And a system where the legal code is so complex that we have made it a crime for non-certified professionals to attempt to interpret it (in most every state, lobbied for by the same lawyers who want to get paid exhorbitant fees to defend you and to to prosecute you, thank you very much), is a system of INjustice.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Kjella (173770)
            Ever notice how lawyers on slashdot, even when they're 99% more likely to be correct than the average slashdotter, point out that "this is not legal advice"? Giving poor or wrong advice can lead to huge economic losses or even jail time. Usually they have a very costly insurance in case they screw up. and in practise I doubt anyone would insure anyone but a certified professional. And even if that were true, then incompetent legal advice isn't a defense in court and so you might not be able to "undo" the da
          • Re:From his site (Score:4, Insightful)

            by aiken_d (127097) <brooks.tangentry@com> on Saturday June 16, 2007 @09:04PM (#19536835) Homepage
            You know what's worse? People with health issues should contact doctors! How oppressive is that? And they don't let passengers fly commercial jets!

            I'm with you. It's utterly ridiculous that there are aspects of life which can be performed more effectively by the highly trained. INjustice INdeed!!!1

            -b
          • Strange, then, how these lawyers who created the laws seem to require so much research and time to prepare a case based on them. If they'd lobbied for them, one might think they'd be more familiar with the contents.

            Just more Slashdot bullshit. You get sued, you call a lawyer. Your car gets hit, you call your insurance company. You break your arm, you call a doctor. You buy a house, you call an inspector.

            I sure as hell don't want to live in your Fisher-Price world, free of things like nuance and jurispr
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by garoo (203070)
          Except that he did contact a lawyer. From the latest post on his blog:

          I want to especially thank my excellent lawyer, Adam Gutride, without whose generous moral and legal support I would not have been able to get through the past few months. He put himself at great risk by defending me and, despite this, he insisted on taking the case and invested many hours and much effort into it.

          So presumably his decisions were based on advice from said lawyer - unless the lawyer wasn't involved until too late a stage, e
        • by SRA8 (859587)
          OK, suppose he made legal mistakes on defending on the libel case. What about the the apparent threat to this student's family (see email to the blogger from the journalist): "As an investigative journalist I can also investigate your entire family if you like and other things." Is that legal?
      • It was a failure for this individual to not protect himself. Let's count the ways: 1) should have retained counsel 2) should have counterclaimed immediately 3) could have chosen a different venue 4) could have chosen a different court , 5) might have been more clear about the content of the blog, so as to remove any possible doubt of malice of forethought, which is required in most libel and slander litigation 6) might have considered other remedies, including bankruptcy variants, or bar review.

        The system i
    • by ushering05401 (1086795) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:11PM (#19535745) Journal
      My understanding is that both sides have engaged in tainted, sensationalist reporting related to Arab/Israeli issues.

      Kaplan is the pro-Israel writer.

      Regards.
  • Right of Appeal (Score:3, Informative)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:08PM (#19535723) Homepage
    To deny you your right to Appeal [ca.gov] to a real court would be to deny you your right to due process.
    • Nobody denied him his rights, he just didn't know how to exercise them, apparently.

      Anyway, SCC is a real court. Now, do you have a right to appeal to the supreme court for your jurisdiction? Likely so (even if it is eventually, through other layers of court.)
  • by mbstone (457308) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:11PM (#19535751)
    I will never know why I lost the initial hearing, or why I lost the appeal.

    Maybe on the merits? Mr. Salahi's website describes Mr. Kaplan as a "fraudulent journalist," which is another way of alleging he's incompetent to do his job, which the law calls "libel per se."

    Anyway, the offending website is still up, so presumably Mr. Kaplan can sue Mr. Salahi yet again and win a second judgment for another $7,575.

    no dog

    • Maybe on the merits? Mr. Salahi's website describes Mr. Kaplan as a "fraudulent journalist," which is another way of alleging he's incompetent to do his job, which the law calls "libel per se."

      If the case were really so cut and dried, Kaplan would have eaten this guy alive in a real court instead of fooling around with small claims. I have a feeling that we will hear more about this.

      • Salahi's a college student. Is there a point to suing somebody for gazillions of dollars they don't have?

        • by gbjbaanb (229885)
          surely that's the American Way?

          Probably the small claims judgement was enough to prove your case is valid and your reputation remains untarnished with whatever the defendant claimed. You can always point to the judgement and say that a judge sided with you given all the details both you and the defendant gave. Perhaps the monetary aspect is unimportant to Kaplan in comparison, and probably taking a case to the full courts is unnecessary - and dangerous given the cost of lawyers and the time it all takes.

          A
        • Re:I don't think so. (Score:4, Informative)

          by mbstone (457308) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @07:30PM (#19536231)
          One of the oddities of the court system is that no court cares, nor can any court know for certain, what you can "afford" or how much money you "have." Nobody knows whether a losing party to a lawsuit has (or does not have) cash hidden under a mattress, or a rich uncle with six months to live. Maybe Mr. Salahi will be able to get a job when he gets out of college and Mr. Kaplan will be able to file a wage garnishment. Maybe someday Mr. Salahi will inherit real estate or win the lottery. Since the lawsuit was based on an "intentional tort," could be Mr. Salahi won't be able to avoid it even if he files for bankruptcy. A judgment creditor can subject a judgment debtor to various kinds of unpleasantness and hassle even if the debtor is truly "judgment proof." Judgments in California earn 10% annual interest, and they can be renewed every 10 years, forever. IAAL.
      • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @07:30PM (#19536229)

        If the case were really so cut and dried, Kaplan would have eaten this guy alive in a real court instead of fooling around with small claims.

        There are half a dozen comments already in the story, along the lines of "man, what a scumbag, suing in small claims!" or "small claims court sucks, OMG, NO RIGHTS USA SUXORS!"

        You have the right to request a small claims court case be moved to a "real" court. You may have to do so immediately, however. There is nothing preventing you from bringing a lawyer with you to small claims court.

        Small claims court is a place where a common man who can't afford a lawyer, actually stands a chance. Evidence standards are dropped for both sides, and at least in my state, the laws supporting small claims court state that everyone, from clerk to judge, needs to work to assist both parties as they are *laymen*. It instructs them to be helpful, explain stuff, and be lenient with minor technicalities in paperwork and procedure for the same reason. In "real" court, if you mis-spelled the defendant's name in your filing, you'd risk get your case tossed out. In small claims court, the clerk says, "uh, you mean Smith, not Simth, right?", and everyone moves on.

        With the exception of borrowers using lawyers pushing lawsuits through small claims court to sue debtors with lots of bad/false/misleading evidence, small claims court is an excellent service to the public. It fills the niche of crimes the cops don't care about in dollar amounts lawyers cost too much for.

        The blogger in this case was too stupid to fire up a browser and start reading how small claims court works in his state- or he simply lost his case because the other side (gasp!) had a legitimate claim. Either way, cry me a river.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by whoever57 (658626)
      If you read the student's blog, he was not sued for defamation -- in fact, he was sued for "tortious business interference".
    • by digitig (1056110)

      I will never know why I lost the initial hearing, or why I lost the appeal.

      Maybe on the merits?
      I can understand that he might actually want to know what those merits were, though.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:22PM (#19535793)
    Seriously. It took me two minutes to find this:

    California Codes 116.710.(b) The defendant with respect to the plaintiff's
    claim, and a plaintiff with respect to a claim of the defendant, may appeal
    the judgment to the superior court in the county in which the action was heard.

    • Okay, I take that back partially. After going through the court records, he did get his appeal in Superior Court, and he lost. Why he feels the need to whine about it on Slashdot is beyond me.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        So the statement that he was not allowed to appeal is false? It seems to me that this story does not rise to any reasonable journalistic standard. Perfect for slashdot.

  • Just a possibility (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bombula (670389) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:24PM (#19535809)
    I will never know why I lost the initial hearing, or why I lost the appeal.

    Maybe because you didn't have enough money to hire a real lawyer? Another victory for the $ystem.

    • by MBraynard (653724)
      Perhaps he should learn the lesson that his actions have consequences - even if those actions are writing words on the internet.
    • by westlake (615356)
      Maybe because you didn't have enough money to hire a real lawyer? Another victory for the $ystem.

      So you talk to legal aid, your church, your school. The EFF and others. Someone who can point you in the right direction.

  • Non-story. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <jcr@nOspAm.mac.com> on Saturday June 16, 2007 @06:42PM (#19535921) Journal
    A man was libeled, he sued, he won. The defendant appealed and lost. Happens all the time.

    -jcr

  • Why file this under "Your Rights Online"? The rights rights guranteed in the constitution, are, in general, protections
    of an individual against government action. There is no first ammendment issue in this case, as the governemtn is
    not bringing action against the individual.

    I don't believe that htis can be considered as a miscarriage of justice, but rather one individual's poor defense against
    another. Salahi's blog takes every opportunity to question the integrity of Kaplan and his reporting, and is sole
    • I don't believe that htis can be considered as a miscarriage of justice, but rather one individual's poor defense against another. Salahi's blog takes every opportunity to question the integrity of Kaplan and his reporting, and is solely dedicated to this one individual. It is reasonable to assume this blog was created for the singular purpose of disparaging Kaplan, with no other viable content.

      This is a miscarriage of justice because a reporter is considered a public figure. The Supreme Court has found

      • by rockhome (97505)
        g
        There is a tremendous difference between posting on a message board something to the effect of "I met Chris Matthews
        and he is a tremndous douchebag" and writing a bloguhouot a recognizable national outlet cannot be
        considered as a public figure.

        The definition of celebrity would need to be greatly expanded to consider Lee Kaplan a celebrity. I spend read and listen to
        a great deal of media criticism and I don't believe that Lee Kaplan has occurred enough to register as national figure. A Google
        search doesn'
    • by cgenman (325138)
      It is reasonable to assume this blog was created for the singular purpose of disparaging Kaplan, with
      no other viable content.


      There is nothing illegal about disparaging someone if it is true.

  • Not related to blog (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 16, 2007 @07:24PM (#19536203)
    Read the court docs. The defendant sent emails to businesses saying he would ruin them if they didn't stop hiring this guy. It has nothing to do with his posting stuff on his blog. He certainly deserved to lose.
  • by Snaller (147050) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @07:33PM (#19536241) Journal
    According to these guys:

    http://www.dafka.org/NewsGen.asp?S=4&PageID=1663 [dafka.org]

    Quote:

    The student set up a smear website against Kaplan where he fabricated stories that Kaplan had been sued for libel, posed as a congressional staffer and engaged in criminal activities.

    Hello? If that is the case, it sounds like he deserved to loose.
    • It's Not That Simple (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jellie (949898)
      Disclaimer: I'm not of any Middle-Eastern descent, and have no personal interest in the case, just in the legal aspects. (It's sad when you have to make such statements...) Also, IANAL.

      Salahi posted a response below, where he defends some of the charges. And he has a point regarding the claim ("tortious business interference"), because his original email, cited as Exhibit A in the plaintiff's reply to the anti-SLAPP motion, does not reference the job at all. In fact, the e-mail was sent in regards to Qua
    • by Pinky3 (22411)
      Good reference! You linked the web site of the group of which the plaintiff is the national director. Obviously an unbiased source.
  • by yamansalahi (1116421) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @07:49PM (#19536347) Homepage
    Well, I am the defendant in this case. Though I've been a slashdot reader for at least 8 years, this is the first time I've felt compelled to post a comment, let alone create an account. I've looked over some of the comments above and it looks to me like one thing that the summary misses completely are the merits of the case. I suppose it is partially my fault because I haven't written about that yet, though anybody that looks through the court documents can see what is going on. I would advise people to please take a look at the court documents and consider the content of the blog before jumping to conclusions. A note for those who think the website wrongs in focusing on Lee Kaplan: the title is a parody of the group CampusWatch, with which Lee Kaplan was once affiliated, if he is not today.

    I will not respond to some of the other ridiculous things people have said above regarding politics and terrorism.

    Here is a brief summary that I think Slashdot readers especially will find illuminating:

    1) On the defamation charge

    Lee Kaplan presented one allegation against me during the trial regarding defamation. In this regard he claimed that my website had the phrase "Lee Kaplan is a douchebag" and linked to another site with his face photoshopped on to gay porn. Had these allegations been true, he very well might have had a legitimate claim against me. However, these allegations were false and he presented them knowing that.

    My website does NOT contain the phrase "Lee Kaplan is a douchebag." However, this spoof of my website on YTMND does (http://leekaplanwatch.ytmnd.com). Lee Kaplan printed this screenshot out and submitted it to the court as evidence, claiming that he got it by taking a screenshot of my website. He further lied and claimed that when clicking on the phrase, it would take you to another page on YTMND with the pornographic photo (http://doucheparty.ytmnd.com/). However, if that phrase was indeed a link to that page, it would appear in the same color as the other links.

    The important things are: 1) the material he claims is defamatory was never on my website, nor was it anything I was involved in authoring or disseminating; and 2) he knowingly lied about how he found the materials and lied when explaining their source.

    For those who are interested, Lee Kaplan is on the ytmnd site in the first place because he threatened to sue its owner over another site on their server mocking him.

    2) On tortious business interference

    Lee Kaplan alleged that e-mails I sent to his webhost complaining about defamatory material he posted about me (alleging I was a member of the US Nazi Party) were actually e-mails sent to his employer. QuantumMedia is listed on every page on his websites; I had every reason to believe this was his webhost and I had every right to file an abuse complaint.

    Later, Kaplan claimed that after my e-mails, the individual at QuantumMedia, Haim Kamer, renigged on a promise to hire him as the editor for a sports blogging website called SportsBlogger.com. In my opinion, the likelihood of such a job existing at all is slim--I still believe the story to be entirely fabricated, and I think that that is a reasonable conclusion given that: 1) I have never seen, or been able to find, any sports writing by Lee Kaplan; 2) SportsBlogger.com did not exist last summer, and it does not exist this year either. What Kaplan showed in court as evidence of a passworded website-in-development was simply the standard default page for a new blog, populated with Latin text. 3) Lee claims he lost a $40,000 job offer, but sued e for only $7,500 in small claims court. 5) In an e-mail to me, Haim Kamer wrote that he had not spoken to Kaplan in 5 years. One month later he wrote a letter to the court under oath contradicting that statement. 6) There was no contract ever presented in court proving that such a job offer ever even existed. 7) if you really think about it: what blogger gets paid $40,000 a year, especially one whose own websites are filled with grammar, s
    • You lost, big guy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lorcha (464930) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @09:14PM (#19536889)
      You lost. Then the case was reviewed by another judge, and you lost again.

      Sounds to me like you're guilty. You might want to leave Lee Kaplan alone from now on.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Catbeller (118204)
        That's Republican logic. Just ignore the facts and manufacture a reality. Deny and assert. Repeat until reporters' heads explode.

        The man just said that the evidence accepted by the court was false. No matter what the judge said in small claims court, he was not guilty of posting the web pages in question. The liar in contention here, tho, is a douchebag. Since justice has, is, and will be for sale to the highest bidder in the social compact we accept, the defendant can never win.
        • by westlake (615356)
          That's Republican logic. Just ignore the facts and manufacture a reality. Deny and assert. Repeat until reporters' heads explode.
          The man just said that the evidence accepted by the court was false.

          The judge - no, two judges, didn't believe him. Some people lie - even posters to Slashdot.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        And I guess O.J. isn't guilty of killing anyone, is he? After all, the court is always right and they acquitted him... Maybe Ron Goldman should have just left him alone. Oh wait, no, he SUED AGAIN, in a different court, and the second time around he won. What a jerk he must be.

        Courts screw up. And I'm sick and tired of everyone here jumping to hindsight conclusions about the way court cases came out without looking at one shred of evidence and with what amounts to a complete lack of understanding of

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ArsonSmith (13997)
          You contradict yourself or you don't know the meaning of the words you are using. Finding innocent and acquitting are not the same. Courts rarely if ever find you innocent. Acquitting just means they are unable to prove you did it with current evidence. Or basically means you got away with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fm6 (162816)
      I'm not going to comment on the merits of your dispute with Kaplan. But I find your characterization of the small claims process to be very strange. From your blog:

      I will also never have recourse to object to the second ruling because small claims cases, when they are appealed, are simply heard before another judge in small claims court. It is more of a re-trial than an appeal. Having exhausted that route, I will never have the opportunity to take this to a real appellate court where my first amendmen

    • by Courageous (228506) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @10:15PM (#19537295)
      Supposing I were your attorney, I would suggest to you in the most polite possible language, that you should never ever discuss a case with any third party other than me or perhaps your spouse.

      I'm not your attorney, so instead I'm going to say: YOU ARE A GODDAMN FOOL FOR DUMPING FURTHER MATERIAL REGARDING A CASE ONTO THE GODDAMN INTERNET. Accusing someone in the public press of criminal conduct (read: AS IN THE ABOVE GODDAMN MESSAGE WHERE YOU GODDAMN PRINT A GODDAMN PERJURY CHARGE FOR CHRIST SAKE) is not only very actionable in court, but can put you on the receiving end of a libel case that can result in findings the SIZE OF A GODDAMN HOUSE. No, I'm not GODDAMN KIDDING. How would you like to own a GODDAMN QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS? But you're going to keep running your fingers over your GODDAMN KEYBOARD, aren't you!?!?!?

      C//
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SRA8 (859587)
      On point 1 -- this seems like a case of perjury doesnt it? Isnt that pretty serious?
  • you have 10 days to file to move a small claims action to superior court. Of course this is not what our constitution says as we have an unlimited right to trial by jury in civil or criminal matters but it is better than most states laws.

  • by Quila (201335) on Sunday June 17, 2007 @02:06AM (#19538467)
    Get a lawyer.

    I just can't repeat it often enough. Sure, depending on the law a lawyer can't represent you in small claims court, but he can certainly prepare you for it behind the scenes, greatly increasing your chances. Besides, just preparing you costs a lot less.

    Get a lawyer.

    The confusion over what court is what and how appeals go simply endorses the point.

    Get a lawyer.

    Before it's too late (like after you lose).

    Or maybe it's not too late. Think "countersuit," especially if you're right about him falsifying evidence. You might have a nice little defamation case on your hands.

    Get a lawyer.
  • No Rights Violated! (Score:2, Informative)

    by sciop101 (583286)
    No 1st Amendment Rights Violated! The journalist did not like what the blogger said about him!

    The journalist sued for damages (bruised ego?) and won. The blogger appealed and lost the appeal.

    Again, No 1st Amendment Rights Violated!

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