LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) — Industry blogger Bob Lefsetz has hired some of the talent industry’s top legal eagles after he was threatened with legal action over a column he wrote about former Republic Records boss Charlie Walk.
In the column in question, “The Charlie Walk Letter” published on Jan 29th, Lefsetz expressed support for women coming forward with allegations of sexual assault at the hands of colleagues and took issue with power dynamics in the entertainment industry.
He also stated that he expected Charlie Walk to be ‘bounced’ from his role as a judge on the musical talent television show ‘The Four’ in the wake of the allegations against him.
“Does Charlie Walk get bounced from television singing show “The Four”?” Lefsetz wrote. “One would think definitely, right?”
Well, Charlie Walk appeared to take exception to the call out and a week later on February 6th, Walk’s attorney Thomas Clare sent a letter to Lefsetz demanding that he remove the post and accusing Lefsetz of making “demonstrably false” claims that were “were published with a reckless disregard for the truth.”
Clare also reiterated the claims of an extortion scheme against Walk perpetrated by Tom Gilligan, who Walk alleged has sent numerous “menacing” text messages and voicemails “threatening to weaponize the #MeToo movement to make sexual harassment claims about Mr. Walk.”
Today, Lefsetz responded in kind, publishing a letter to Mr. Clare from his own attorneys Howard King and Peter Paterno from the firm King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP. If you haven’t already read the letter on Bob’s blog, we’ve reprinted it here in full.
Thomas A. Clare, Esq.
Clare Locke LLP
10 Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Re: Bob Lefsetz / Charlie Walk
Dear Mr. Clare:
We are legal counsel to Bob Lefsetz and are responding to your surprising letter of February 6, 2018, which was clearly designed to threaten, intimidate, and stifle Mr. Lefsetz’s rights and obligations to continue distributing his industry newsletter. Your letter also demonstrates little understanding of or appreciation for the First Amendment.
Put simply, Mr. Lefsetz will not succumb to the threats of litigation intended to chill his rights to distribute his column.
Mr. Lefsetz has a long and well-respected history of commenting on the entertainment business, among other topics, and operating as a clearing house for any third party comments directed to him. It is not Mr. Lefsetz’s practice to investigate the truth or veracity of third party comments, nor does he purport to do so. “Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton,” 491 U.S. 657, 688 (1989)(“failure to investigate before publishing, even when a reasonably prudent person would have done so, is not sufficient to establish reckless disregard”); “Khawar v. Globe Intern., Inc.,” 19 Cal. 4th 254, 275-76 (1998)(“(w)hen … a finding of actual malice is based on the republication of a third party’s defamatory falsehoods, ‘failure to investigate before publishing, even when a reasonably prudent person would have done so, is not sufficient'”)(citing “Harte-Hanks,” 491 U.S. at 688).
To the extent interested parties object to third party posts, Mr. Lefsetz’s practice is to post those responses. “The marketplace of ideas, not the tort system, is the means by which our society evaluates those opinions.” “Grillo v. Smith,” 144 Cal.App.3d 868, 872 (1983)(citing “Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc.,” 418 U.S., 323, 339-040 (1974)). Accordingly, Mr. Lefsetz will be posting your letter as an expression of your objection to other posts.
The First Amendment and the cases interpreting same have consistently held that journalist’s expressions of opinion are not only protected, but are encouraged. “Opinions that present only an individual’s personal conclusions and do not imply a provably false assertion of fact are nonactionable; indeed, such opinions are the lifeblood of public discussion promoted by the First Amendment, under which speakers remain free to offer competing opinions based upon their independent evaluations of the facts.” “Paterno v. Superior Court,” 163 Cal.App.4th 1342, 1356 (2008)(citing cases). It is certainly true that Mr. Lefsetz does not shy away from giving his opinions, which is probably why his newsletter is the most read publication in the entertainment business.
Notably, you have not identified any purported statement of fact regarding Mr. Walk that you contend is provably false and should be corrected. In fact, Mr. Lefsetz’s piece was essentially a series of questions. Maybe your client answered them and didn’t like the answers. But that’s not defamation – that’s a guilty conscience. The most salient question Mr. Lefsetz posed was “Does Charlie Walk get bounced from (the) television singing show ‘The Four’? One would think definitely, right?” Well, yes.
Frankly, there was no intent to harm Mr. Walk. He seems very capable of doing that on his own. Mr. Lefsetz was merely going about his business. However, Mr. Lefsetz accepts no obligation to censor third party postings or his own opinions, including his opinion that, under the circumstances, Mr. Walk should resign (which opinion, as noted, does not even appear in the post.) (Hyperlinking to a third party post is not actionable republication even assuming it contains any defamatory material. “A mere reference does not directly publish the defamatory material to a new audience. Instead, it tells the new audience where the defamatory material can be found. A URL is not qualitatively different. It tells the reader the address where she can find the material on the Web.” “U.S. ex rel. Klein v. Omeros Corp.,” 897 F.Supp.2d 1058, 1074 (W.D. Wash. 2012). Should you identify any statement of material fact that was attributed to Mr. Lefsetz and which you contend arises to the level of libel, your remedy is to identify that statement and demand a correction. Cal. Civ. Code § 48(a). We’re waiting.
Speaking of opinions, you’re certainly entitled to propound your convoluted theory about Tom Gilligan’s drunk texting leading to Ms. Coopersmith’s post. After all, there are people who believe that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a DC pizzeria (not smart people, but people). And Mr. Lefsetz will publish Mr. Gilligan’s e-mail to him in his letters post, as he customarily does no matter how crackpot the theory.
Since your letter clearly contemplates litigation where the truth of Ms. Coopersmith’s statements about Mr. Walk are the core issue, your demand that Mr. Lefsetz preserve all records applies equally to Mr. Walk. Please make sure that Mr. Walk preserves all of his records and communications, including emails, text messages, and digital records, relating to Ms. Coopersmith, including relating to his relationship, sexual or otherwise, with her, the events and his conduct alleged in her post, and Mr. Walk’s contention that there are “material inconsistencies” in her account. Mr. Walk similarly should preserve any records of any communications with any other women who worked with or for him that are of a sexual nature or that in any way relate to sexual relations between Mr. Walk and those women, and any other claims made against Mr. Walk relating to sexual harassment or impropriety in the workplace.
Nothing contained herein shall be deemed an admission of any fact or a waiver of any rights.
Very truly yours,
Howard E. King
of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP
Peter T. Paterno
of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP