The lawyer for an Orange County woman sued for her statements in a 2011 ABC News 20/20 broadcast on Internet dating horrors hoped last week he could convince a California Court of Appeal to overturn a trial judge's ruling that the defamation/libel lawsuit should proceed to trial.
Nathaniel Clark, who represents defendant Kelley Cahill, told a three-justice panel that Superior Court Judge Franz E. Miller issued an erroneous 2013 ruling because the plaintiff, Cahill's ex-boyfriend David Williams, hasn't met his burden of proof, botched compiling with technical court requirements and isn't likely to prevail at trial.
Clark's presentation was greeted alternatively with frowns and smiles of disbelief by justices Richard Aronson and David Thompson. They clearly were not impressed by any of his arguments. Worse for Clark, Aronson wanted to know why he excluded mentioning or addressing in his appellant briefs Oasis West Realty v. Goldman, a key related, state Supreme Court case.
"Did you deliberately make a decision not to include it?" the justice asked. "You have to include important authorities that don't support your position."
The attorney apologized, but had no answer for the error other than blaming someone else at his firm who wrote the first brief.
Aronson fired back: But you wrote the second brief and the case wasn't included there either.
Clark then argued that Williams can't prove Cahill wrote inflammatory comments against him in intensely bitter Internet postings. Because the sentiments were similar to ones the defendant made on 20/20, Aronson said there's a strong inference she was the author. Clark quibbled. The justice smiled and asked a brutal, rhetorical question, "Was there a double on 20/20?
Lastly, Clark said even if the justices hypothetically assume Cahill authored the controversial statements labeling Williams a criminal and conman, the descriptions are constitutionally protected free speech.
"The statements are not defamatory," argued Clark, a lawyer at Los Angeles-based Wesierski & Zurek. "They are hyperbole . . . They are not to be taken seriously . . . They are vents."
He added that Cahill calling Williams a criminal "is an exaggeration."
An unimpressed Justice Thompson added that on 20/20 Cahill claimed the plaintiff "steals from [women]."
For Williams' Beverly Hills-based attorney, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, the hearing underscored the old adage: If you're winning in court, it's best to keep your mouth shut.
The appellate panel, which includes Justice Kathleen O'Leary, will announce its ruling in coming weeks.
After Williams filed his lawsuit, Cuomo–who took the leading role in the controversial segment–left ABC News for CNN.
ABC's 20/20 broadcast that included Cahill's attack on William began with hosts Elizabeth Vargas and Chris Cuomo announcing, "Tonight, we look at what happens when crooks come off the streets and through your computer screens. They can end up taking your love, your money and even your reputation."
The first four segments of the show recounted horrific stories of love-hunting people being duped into giving tens of thousands of dollars to anonymous criminals posing as legitimate dating material.
The show bizarrely included an equally hostile segment on Williams, though his relationship with Cahill had nothing in common with the scumbags highlighted earlier in the program.
For example, Williams did not hide his true identity or lay nefarious traps to steal money.
After studying the evidence and while refusing a request by Cahill and ABC News to kill the lawsuit before it can reach a jury, Judge Miller opined that the broadcast "negligently propelled an all-too-common nasty, romantic breakup into a national crime story."
ABC News and Cahill appealed Miller's ruling, but the network decided to settle out of court before the justices issue their opinion.
A business savvy Cahill, who converted her alleged victimhood into a commercial business seeking fees to aid women avoid Internet dating swindlers, refuses to settle.
According to the plaintiff's court filings, Williams dumped Cahill after he caught her cheating on him with a side character in the Housewives of Orange County series on Bravo.