On February 13, the seven Justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously denied the appeal by "Bobby" Truitt of a New Orleans trial court decision that Trout Point Lodge co-owner Daniel Abel's lawsuit against Truitt, homophobic blogger Handshoe, and former Jefferson Parish Assistant Attorney Anne-Marie Vandenweghe was purportedly an anti-SLAPP suit. SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation." This decisively puts to rest any contention by the three defendants that Abel is suing in defamation over a matter of public interest or that he is a public figure. There is no public interest at issue in Abel's lawsuit, the trial court, the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, and now the Supreme Court have decided.
Truitt, who once ignorantly denied in a Twitter exchange with this blog that the prevailing party in a Louisiana CCP Article 971 (anti-SLAPP) motion is owed attorney's fees by the losing party, will now indeed owe Mr. Abel his fees, which could be substantial. Truitt has for some reason removed that tweet--where he also questioned where Randall Cajun went to law school--from publication.
Mr. Truitt attended law school at Loyola University in New Orleans, as did Mr. Abel.
Loyola University sued by Handshoe
The day before the Supreme Court handed down its decision, February 12, Handshoe had filed a motion to amend his Mississippi federal court lawsuit against Abel for alleged misrepresentation under the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The amendment asks to include as new defendants Loyola University of New Orleans, the Loyola legal clinic Associate Director Ramona Fernandez, legal student Janey Lamar, and process server Chris Yount. Handshoe alleges counts of "abuse of process" and "malicious prosecution." He goes to the extent of ironically stating that he is being "harassed" and "defamed" through legal process by the University's legal clinic and the others. He also accuses the new defendants and Abel of "cynically using a minor child that was a non-party to the litigation" to do so. There was "misuse of the legal process, incuding the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and Louisiana's defamation laws to silence reporting on a matter of public interest," Handshoe wrote in his brief for Judge Keith Starrett.
Fernandez and the non-profit legal clinic are representing the minor child in an appeal of a trial court decision that Yount's defamation lawsuit against Handshoe and Jack Truitt was indeed an anti-SLAPP suit. Lamar is simply a law student who works at the clinic, which was appointed by court order to represent the child's interests in legal matters, including the divorce.
Unfortunately for Handshoe, the Chief Judge of New Orleans Civil District Court, the Court of Appeal, and now the Supreme Court have now said public interest is lacking with regards to Abel and Trout Point Lodge, undercutting Handshoe's conclusory allegations in Mississippi federal court. Handshoe has repeatedly referred to Abel and his associates as "SLAPP Happy Nut Jobs," an allegation now definitvely reputiated by three Louisiana courts. Handshoe will pay the consequences, but will he cease his blogging of falsehoods?
Notably, Handshoe is also now suing Yount and Abel for "abuse of process" and "malicious prosecution" in two courts at the same time, which appears far more than legally dubious. All of his legal adversaries, according to Handshoe's various legal filings, are part of a grand international conspiracy to silence his blogging, which a U.S. federal district court described in 2012 as a "campaign" to harass, damage, and embarass his targets.
In addition, Handshoe's primary allegation that attorney Abel is guilty of "misrepresentation" under the DMCA looks like pure folly. Abel was the legal representative of the father of a minor child when a DMCA notice was served on Handshoe's web host. By law, the father was guardian of all intellectual property generated by the child, and therefore had legal standing to serve the DMCA notice regarding Handshoe's publication of the child's drawing on his web site "Slabbed." Handshoe's Mississippi brief also suggests, Abel had been ordered by the court in Louisiana to see that the drawing was removed from publication on Handshoe's web site. Handshoe claims that order was immaterial.
According to legal commentators, Abel, as the father's attorney, was fully within his rights to act as the father's agent in serving the notice; in fact, attorneys commonly draft and serve DMCA notices. In addition, over 5 months ago, Abel challenged the very jurisdiction of the Mississippi federal court over him. The judge in that case, however, has not issued any rulings since early September, 2014.
As previously mentioned, in addition to being sued for defamation by Abel in New Orleans, Handshoe and attorney Truitt are also being sued for defamation in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana by Chris Yount, a process server and private investigator who has worked for Abel. According to Handshoe's web site and court documents, Yount served Handshoe with legal process on several occasions over the past few years. This included in two Nova Scotia Supreme Court cases where plaintiffs including Trout Point Lodge have won $817,000 in damages against Handshoe for defamation and copyright infringement. To many observers, Handshoe's publishing about Yount's child and now his lawsuit against Yount looks like payback, including using the legal system ironically in just the kind of abuse of legal process that Handshoe is now alleging against Loyola University and the others.
There is currently an appeal pending in that case to the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, which will consider anti-SLAPP issues in Mr. Yount's case, where Ramona Fernandez represents the minor child, nearly identical to those Mr. Abel so succesfully litigated in Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans. The Supreme Court denial of Mr. Truitt's appeal could have serious positive implications for the pending Yount appeal.
Abel's motion to compel Handshoe to answer discovery in Abel's lawsuit against him, Truitt, and Vandenweghe, will be heard next month; a hearing on attorney's fees can't be far behind. Legal observers say Handshoe has little chance of winning, and will for the first time in all his various legal battles be subject to discocvery alongside Truitt and Vandenweghe.
Notably, self-styled as the Gulf South's premier legal affairs blogger, Handshoe tried to have the enforcement of the Nova Scotia copyright infringement judgment against him in state court removed to the same federal court where he is suing Abel, but was miserably unsuccesful. Handshoe had argued for protection against the $180,000 judgment under the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act, but failed last November when Chief Judge Louis Guirola determined that enforcing the copyright order had nothing to do with defamation.
Attorney Abel served his copyright notice on Handshoe's then-web host Dream Host because Handshoe was publishing on Slabbed a sexually explicit drawing authored by the minor child. (Handshoe admits to twice making such publications in his amended suit). Dream Host apparently had enough and dropped Handshoe, who now uses HostGator. According to the allegations in Yount's suit against Handshoe and Truitt (which appear in an appeal brief filed by Fernandez), they used Slabbed not only to publish the drawing after the court file was sealed by a judge in a Louisiana divorce proceeding, they also both published text on Slabbed to create the false and defamatory innuendo that Yount was sexually molesting his child. If true, that would be defamatory per se under Louisiana law. Courts in both the United States and Canada have repeatedly found that Handshoe publishes homophobic material on Slabbed.
In his amended legal complaint, Handshoe writes that the drawing shows "a minor child being sodomized by a line of robots." The divorce court apparetly did not agree with Handshoe's conclusions, as Mr. Yount has custody of his child, and the child has serious legal representation in the form of Ms. Fernandez and Loyola University.
More news on the "no holds barred" Handshoe/Truitt legal circus coming soon . . .