Monday, April 14, 2008

How "Lowe-Down" Will This Lawsuit Get?

If Montecito resident Rob Lowe was hoping that his preemptive strike strategy of suing three former members of his domestic staff would have the in terrorem effect of putting a muzzle on the defendants and forcing them to seek refuge under that manhole cover that the allegations of his complaint would have us believe they crawled out from, those hopes were pretty much dashed this weekend.

Friday afternoon it was reported that one of the defendants, former Lowe nanny Jessica Gibson, has hired civil rights attorney and world class media boor Gloria Allred to represent her.

That move pretty much guarantees that this case will be tried in the press before it ever sees the inside of a courtroom.

Allred has built a career not on what she says or does inside the courthouse but rather on her performance in front of the microphones and cameras outside. If the Lowe's have dirty laundry, I can guarantee you that Allred will be the first to air it out. And even if the Lowe's don't have dirty laundry, that might not necessarily stop Allred from insinuating that they do.

Lowe's own attorney, Stanton L. Stein, was on the Today show Friday morning being interviewed about the case. When asked about the tactic of filing a lawsuit in a situation like this, Stein agreed that it was "highly unusual." He said that Lowe "chose to fight back framing the issue in a way the public can understand."

When asked by interviewer Meredith Viera if Lowe and his wife were in fact the victims of an extortion attempt why did Lowe refuse law enforcement's offer of assistance? Stein responded that the sheriff was considering a criminal proceeding into blackmail and that it was he, and not Lowe, who instructed the sheriff not to proceed with an investigation. The reason he asked the sheriff to stay out of it was because if the sheriff did get involved it would hamper Stein's "investigation" as the defendants would take the Fifth Amendment.

Stein's suggestion that the defendants would not enjoy that same protection against self-incrimination in civil discovery proceedings that they would in a criminal investigation is simply not true and Stein ought to know better.

Any person has a right to refuse to answer questions that could tend to incriminate them regardless of who is doing the questioning.

And, according to Sgt. Alex Tipolt the public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff, the sheriff as of this time is not considering any investigation into extortion and blackmail. Tipolt said that deputies spoke to both "Mr. Lowe and his attorney" who said they preferred to handle the matter as a civil issue.

In the Lowes' instance, handling it "civilly" means seeking a large damage award from the defendants. No, they haven't asked for restraining orders or injunctions. The prayers of the complaints ask only for money.

So, what about that strategy? If you find out that the household help is stealing from you, which is the allegation the Lowe's have made against their former chef, I think most of us would just fire the individual and that would be that. If someone is threatening to embarrass us with false information unless they are paid off, most people would probably call the police in.

Sure, you might choose to handle it yourself by suing the thief or the extortionist and asking for a large amount of monetary damages, but even if you do prevail, do you really think you'll be able to collect on any judgment you might recover?

After all, if the hired help had that kind of money, they probably wouldn't be working as nannies and cooks to begin with. I'd be surprised if Lowe's household helpers turn out to be that well-heeled.