If you go to the website of the Los Angeles law firm of Lavely & Singer and click the bio of cofounder Martin Singer, you find a Los Angeles Magazine article in which Singer is described as a “pit bull” who has “rabid” tactics and the nickname “Mad Dog.” The article quotes a journalist saying, “I’ll make one call to a publicist to check out a tip, and pretty soon I get a hand-delivered letter from Singer threatening all sorts of disasters and financial damages.”
Journalists publishing items about Singer clients — who have included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Britney Spears, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Céline Dion, Eddie Murphy, and a Swiss bank and its Cayman Islands operation — receive intimidating letters from the lawyer threatening lawsuits and admonishing writers to avoid being reckless. Singer is “the scourge of the tabloids…the man to call when a celebrity is in trouble,” says Variety.com.
It’s a pretty good bet that few law firms boast that their cofounder’s nickname is Mad Dog. It’s also a pretty good bet that few newspapers would hire such a lawyer to stridently threaten another newspaper about the consequences of inaccurately reporting charges contained in a civil lawsuit. Charges in lawsuits are “privileged,” meaning that the press can cite documents from a suit as long as the report is fair and accurate.
But Beverly Hills’ Platinum Equity, the buyout firm that recently acquired the Union-Tribune, has hired Mad Dog Singer to fire off a letter to the Reader.
Last month, the business/financial TV station CNBC quoted from two civil lawsuits, filed within the past three years, that charge Platinum Equity with sexual harassment, with giving special consideration to female employees who sleep with executives, and the like. There were settlement discussions with two of the plaintiffs, and both suits were dismissed. But Platinum won’t say if there were settlements with the female plaintiffs. (See adjoining column.) After getting the voluminous records from the lawsuits, the Reader asked Platinum’s public relations executive, Mark Barnhill, for a response.
Then the Reader received the letter from Singer. Among many things, the letter warned that if significant facts were omitted from a Reader story or if the story implied that the charges were true, Platinum would file a defamation suit “giving rise to potentially astronomical damages.” Warning of “immense monetary damages,” Singer’s letter admonished, “You proceed at your peril.” At the top of the letter were these words: “CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL NOTICE. NOT FOR PUBLICATION OR OTHER USE.” In a number of instances, the Reader has found, Singer’s threatening letters have been published despite his warning of a possible copyright violation. The letters we have seen contained the same language — words such as “malicious,” “defamatory,” and “violation of Copyright Act,” for example — that Singer uses in his letter to the Reader.
Lawyers say that such a confidentiality command is good only if the recipient agrees to the prohibition. The Reader does not honor Singer’s attempted ban.
“I have never heard of one newspaper threatening another regarding the publication of any material, whether it was allegedly privileged or not,” says Wayne B. Giampietro, a First Amendment lawyer for Stitt, Klein, Daday, Aretos & Giampietro of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. “I know of no basis on which an attorney can write a threatening letter to some party he does not represent and then [contend] that the recipient cannot quote from the letter. All of this sounds like a very clumsy attempt at intimidation.”
Attorney Jon Katz of Silver Spring, Maryland, who also does First Amendment cases, says he has never heard of a newspaper threatening another over publication of privileged material, although he has not done research on the matter. As to Singer’s warning that his letter could not be published or used in any other way, Katz says, “As a free expression zealot, I would be surprised if any judge treated the lawyer’s threat letter as confidential, where the recipient made no such agreement.”
Download a PDF copy of Martin D. Singer's letter
- Lavely & Singer
- Professional Corporation
- Attorneys at Law
- Suite 2400
- 2049 Century Park East
- Los Angeles, California 90067-2906
June 26, 2009
- CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL NOTICE
- NOT FOR PUBLICATION OR OTHER USE
We are writing as litigation counsel to Platinum Equity, LLC regarding the story about my client being prepared for publication in an upcoming issue of the San Diego Reader (the “Story”), concerning specious lawsuits which have since been dismissed, after being filed by disgruntled former employees who hid behind pseudonyms while making prurient unsubstantiated allegations. In the event that you proceed to recklessly and maliciously publish a Story which falsely states, either directly or by implication, that my client engaged in wrongdoing as alleged in those lawsuits or otherwise, you will be exposed to substantial liability for claims including defamation and interference with prospective economic advantage. In the event that you proceed to recklessly and maliciously publish a Story which falsely states, either directly or by implication, that my client engaged in wrongdoing as alleged in those lawsuits or otherwise, you will be exposed to substantial claims for defamation, giving rise to potentially astronomical damages.
The Story is premised on salacious and unproven allegations contained in lawsuits which were ultimately dismissed, and which had been filed by disgruntled former employees of Platinum Equity who were not even willing to put their names on the suits. The fact that the lawsuits were filed under aliases speaks volumes. All three of the plaintiffs hid behind “Doe” pseudonyms. The fact that none of the individuals who made the sordid allegations contained in the suits were willing to stand behind their claims and sue in their own names is indeed telling.
The absurd “John Doe” lawsuit filed by the disgruntled former security guard was thrown out by the Court, after the Court struck his sordid and salacious allegations. After being fired for allegedly moonlighting, the former employee had sued claiming that he had been fired for refusing to sign an agreement that he claimed was unenforceable — an agreement that the Court later specifically held was valid and enforceable under California law. After the Court found that the lawsuit had been improperly filed under an alias, “John Doe” filed an amended Complaint, this time including a laundry list of gratuitous, inflammatory, unsubstantiated, false and defamatory allegations which had not been included in his original lawsuit, and which were irrelevant and completely unrelated to his lawsuit’s claims. Platinum Equity immediately filed a motion to strike those improper and scurrilous allegations. Significantly, the Court agreed with Platinum Equity, and granted its motion striking the improper allegations from the record.