Abel was suing Handshoe and Vandenweghe for defamation in federal court. "We’re going for his license to practice in federal courts as Danny Abel has a history, habit and pattern of disobeying the Louisiana and Federal Courts," stated Handshoe. Handshoe was defended in the lawsuit by New Orleans' own Baldwin Haspel, a firm that may now be wondering what they've gotten themselves into with Handshoe, an adjudicated defamer and inveterate blogger, who will even openly and notoriously break federal court rules to continue blogging and tweeting.
A conspiracy theorist, Handshoe has for years accused Abel and his two business associates of involvement in federal crimes related to the criminal investigation, indictment, and guilty plea of former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard. All three men are gay. Broussard, in fact, was never indicted or sentenced for any crimes relating to Abel, his partners, or their businesses, including Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia. Abel is self-represented. Handshoe has repeatedly accused the trio of being members of organized crime, racketeering, and money laundering, among many other unfounded allegations. No one except Handshoe and Vandenweghe have made such claims, and various publications on Slabbed are fervently anti-gay and homophobic.
Judge Morgan had for months not acted on Abel's motion to remand the case to Louisiana state court after Vandenweghe revealed in her first court filing that she now resided in Harahan, Louisiana not Pass Christian, Mississippi. In the mean time, both Vandenweghe and Handshoe tried their best to have the case against them dismissed, revealing their legal strategies in extensive court filings. Last week, Judge Morgan suddenly indefinitely cancelled oral argument scheduled for Handshoe's attorneys, and denied his attempt at getting sanctions against sole practitioner Abel. That was defeat number one for well-reputed firm Baldwin Haspel, followed by a reprimand from the judge after she found out that Handshoe was tweeting and emailing from inside the courtroom during oral argument, which is against the law. He was seated at counsel's table next to his Baldwin Haspel attorneys while breaking the law. Morgan actually reconvened the hearing to advise Handshoe and his attorneys about Handshoe's rule-breaking conduct, apparently after her staff discovered the online publications.
Judge Morgan had allowed Abel to voluntarily dismiss the federal lawsuit (which had been necessitated by Vandenweghe and Handshoe both living in Mississippi) without prejudice, which meant he is free to file against them anew in Louisiana state court. Abel in fact has told the federal court he plans to sue in state court soon.
Balwin Haspel associates Scott Sternberg and Brodie Glenn then tried to get attorney's fees from Abel by court order, even going to the extent of questioning the judge's prior ruling regarding §1927 sanctions and her decision that Abel could dismiss voluntarily without prejudice. Sternberg is an avid defender of blogger rights and access to public records, however defamation--like publicly accusing people of major crimes and corruption without any proof--is not free speech under Louisiana or United States law. The Baldwin Haspel attorneys claim that Handshoe's allegations were simply opinion or hyperbole, however anyone vaguely familiar with Slabbed would find such a suggestion laughable. Handshoe also claims to be a journalist, and points to coverage of his blog by the Times-Piacyune web site nola.com as proof.
Morgan's decision is legally significant because it means that a special motion to strike under Louisiana's anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) rules does not amount to a motion for summary judgment, at least under federal court rules. To win on such an anti-SLAPP motion, Handshoe would have had to show how Abel's private business was somehow a matter of public interest, and it cannot be so just because Handshoe said it was on Slabbed.
It is notably ironic that both Handshoe as represented by Baldwin Haspel attorney Sternberg and a self-represented Vandenweghe were opposing Abel's attempts to get at Jefferson Parish public records, as both are prior users of public records laws and Vandenweghe was the Assistant Parish Attorney in charge of public record requests while the Broussard criminal investigation was underway by both journalists and prosecutors. Sternberg has represented two student newspaper editors in cases involving Louisiana public records laws, at Tulane and Louisiana State University.
Judge Morgan today denied Handhshoe and Vandenwege's motions for attorney's fees, blow number three for the New Orleans law firm. It's an open question as to whether Handshoe has paid the firm a cent, as the Baldwin Haspel attorneys seemed desperate to get a fee award, filing multiple briefs to Judge Morgan. The firms advertises on Slabbed's front page.
This setback echoes Handshoe's defeat in Mississippi federal court in February, where Judge Guirola denied he and his attorney Bobby Truitt's attempt to get attorney's fees in another court case where Charles Leary and Vaughn Perret were seeking to enforce a $425,000 Canadian defamation judgment against Handshoe. The federal judge unequivocally denied the motion, and said there was no suggestion that Leary & Perret's appeal to the Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeal was frivolous. That appeal is pending.
|Final page of Judge Morgan's Order stating that Handshoe's legal argument was "inapposite"|
Abel's analysis of writings on Slabbed is similar to what was done to unmask federal prosecutors Salvadore Perricone and Jan Maselli-Mann as anonymous bloggers, a scandal still reverberating through the New Orleans U.S. Attorney's Office. The unmasking was done by Frederick Heebe, co-owner of the River Birch Landfill, and his legal team. Vandenweghe attended law school with Maselli-Mann and her former boss U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who resigned amidst the uproar. More recently, attorneys for Waste Remediation of Plaquemines and Concrete Busters of Louisiana retracted and then dismissed allegations they had picked up from Slabbed that implicated Abel, Leary, and Perret's companies in a criminal racketeering conspiracy with Aaron Broussard and Frederick Heebe. The law firm Smith & Fawer laid blame for such false allegations squarely on Handshoe's shoulders.
The U.S. Attorney's Office called off all criminal investigation involving the River Birch Landfill contract in an unprecedented move after Perricone, Maselli-Mann, and Letten's resignations citing "evidentiary concerns." Smith & Fawer has now just dismissed with prejudice the entirety of their lawsuit on behalf of the two competing waste companies, citing the Letten's U.S. Attorney's Office as having "mislead" them with regards to its investigation.
Today, Judge Morgan termed Baldwin Haspel's legal argument in Abel's case as "inapposite," meaning out of place or inappropriate.
Notably, Handshoe has been completely silent about his losses in Judge Morgan's courtroom, despite his glee in publishing prognostications about Abel's fate earlier in the month.
Coming soon, more on Handshoe's questionable assertions made to courts in both the United States and Nova Scotia, where he is again being sued in Nova Scotia Supreme Court for copyright violations.