Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Will Rob Lowe Get SLAPPED Down?

The Rob Lowe "nannygate" case is finally getting off the tabloid pages and into the courtroom where it belongs.

Two hearings are set for this week in Santa Barbara Superior Court the first of which is this morning (Tuesday) at 8:45 when Lowe attorney Larry Stein will be attempting to get a one-week postponement of nanny Jessica Gibson's anti-SLAPP motion which is presently set to be heard on July 3rd.

Reportedly Stein is going to be unavailable on the day before the start of the three-day July 4th weekend. Don't expect to see Gibson's attorney Gloria Allred in court this morning. Santa Barbara lawyer and Allred's co-counsel James Cordes will be there to oppose the request for a postponement.

(11 a.m Update: Stein's request for a postponement was granted in court this morning. The hearing on the anti-SLAPP motion will be held on July 10th. This Thursday's hearing on Lowe's motion to dismiss some of the allegations of Gibson's cross-complaint will go ahead as scheduled.)

On Thursday, the Lowe vs. Gibson case will be back in court when Rob and Sheryl Lowe will attempt to have some, but not all, of the allegations of Gibson's cross-complaint dismissed. Surprisingly though, the Lowes are not trying to knock out, at least not at this time, Gibson's allegations of sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual harassment.

Rather, they are only seeking to have tossed out Gibson's allegations relating to violations of California's labor laws regarding the timely payment of wages and overtime as well as Gibson's allegation that the Lowes retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the labor law system.

Of more interest is the anti-SLAPP motion that Gibson filed back on June 6 to get Lowe's lawsuit against her dropped. "SLAPP" is an acronym for strategic lawsuit against public participation. California law frowns on people filing lawsuits for the sole purpose of chilling other individuals exercise of their constitutional rights. The purpose of the anti-SLAPP law is to preserve the rights of people not to be sued in court simply because they exercised those rights.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you will recall that the anti-SLAPP procedure is the same one that journalist Susan Paterno used with some success to fight News-Press owner Wendy McCaw's libel suit against her. (And yes, Lowe's attorney Larry Stein was on the losing end of that suit.)

Although Lowe would have us believing that he and his wife were the victims of an extortion attempt by Gibson, the allegations made in the anti-SLAPP motion paint a very different picture.

According to the attorneys for Gibson, the Lowes' lawsuit originates out of a letter sent by Gibson's former attorney John Richards on March 25 of this year to the Lowes' attorney outlining Gibson's claims of sexual harassment and failure to properly pay wages. Richards enclosed a draft of a proposed lawsuit. By agreement the Lowes' attorney was allowed to interview Gibson about her claims on April 2 in the presence of her attorney.

On April 7th the Lowes filed their lawsuit against Gibson and that same day Rob Lowe wrote an article that appeared on the Huffington Post claiming that a former employee was trying to commit extortion and "accuse us of a vicious laundry list of false terribles." The Lowes' also filed suit against another former nanny Laura Boyce and former chef Pete Clements. (The lawsuit against Clements has since been voluntarily dismissed by the Lowes.)

Although the Lowes beat Gibson to the courthouse door, Gibson eventually included her original allegations against them in a cross-complaint she filed along with her answer to the Lowes ' allegations. Gibson's attorneys argue that the Lowes' suit is based upon Gibson's communicative conduct in anticipation of and/or in connection with the filing and prosecution of a civil lawsuit. Since lawsuits are a way of furthering one's right to seek redress for wrong, the Lowes' lawsuit was filed for the purpose of deterring her from exercising those rights and, for that reason, is subject to being dismissed under the anti-SLAPP statute.

One of the things the Lowes accused Gibson of doing was violating a written confidentiality agreement she had signed for the benefit of the Lowes. Gibson says she doesn't believe she signed any such agreement. When asked for a copy of the agreement by Gibson's attorney's, Lowe's attorney Stein wrote back and said that the agreement was "missing."

Stay tuned for further developments.

* * *

The class-action lawsuit filed back in late 2006 by former News-Press reporter Hildy Medina alleging that the paper failed to pay employees compensation for overtime worked, has been settled.

Anyone who worked for the News-Press between October 11, 2002 and May 14, 2008, is eligible to participate in the settlement. The News-Press will pay a maximum of $140,000 to resolve the case which includes attorney's fees for the plaintiff's attorneys, administration costs as well as the individual claims of employees.

Employees have until August 8th to submit their claims. The matter will go back to court on August 27th for final approval of the settlement.