A federal appeals court ruled this week that an illiterate man's lawsuit against a Gangland documentary television broadcast about an Orange County-based white supremacist criminal gang can proceed despite an effort by A&E network lawyers to kill the case before trial.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the plaintiff, a person with admitted intimate knowledge of gang activities and a law enforcement informant identified only as "John Doe," raised legitimate legal issues of dispute with Gangland Productions, Inc. employees, who broadcast his image during an interview about Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1) after, he claims, they assured him of anonymity.
As a result of the show, Doe--who is also dyslexic--claims he lost his job, can no longer serve as a paid police informant and, worse, is a likely target for murder by methamphetamine-crazed, Adolf Hitler-loving, hammer-wielding PEN1 gangsters.
Lawyers for the show argue that Doe signed a 2009 waiver that specifically allowed Gangland to air his image, but the hoodlum claims he can't read and was orally told by a producer, Stephanie Kovac, and a cameraman that his identity would be concealed because of the risks.
According to the lawsuit, Doe insists that when he asked Kovac to let his girlfriend read the document before he signed it, the producer told him it wasn't necessary because the paper served merely as a receipt for the $300 the show paid him for the interview.
The appellate judges--Harry Pregerson, William A. Fletcher and Jacqueline H. Nguyen--sided with A&E lawyers that U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford botched rulings against their anti-SLAPP motion by incorrectly determining that the defendants' work hadn't been "in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with issues of public interest."
Relying on California law, the appellate judges opined that Guilford applied statutes too narrowly or incorrectly, and that the issue of gang violence, the topic of the show, was a matter of public interest.
But the Ninth Circuit panel agreed with Guilford that Doe claims against Gangland of public disclosure of a private fact, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false promise had enough merit to proceed inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
Doe grew up with Scott Miller, a co-founder of PEN1 who was viciously ambushed and murdered in 2002 by his colleagues in Anaheim after he gave an interview about the gang to a Los Angeles television news reporter.
Miller's face wasn't shown, but PEN1 members easily deduced he was the one who'd publicly talked about gang matters--a big no-no in the underworld rulebook.
The Orange County District Attorney's office won murder convictions against three hoodlums--Billy Joe Johnson, Michael Lamb and Jacob Rump--for the Miller killing.
Fifty-year-old Johnson, arguably one of the most deranged gangsters in California history and a product of Costa Mesa, is rotting with Lamb, 39, on San Quentin State Prison's notorious Death Row; Rump, 37, got a punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole and is residing inside the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County.
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PEN1 grew as a 1980s offspring from the Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Lowriders.
Go HERE to read about the exploits of Johnson, Lamb and Rump.