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Neville Johnson Quoted by the Daily Journal In Coverage of Gerbosi v. Gains Appellate Victory (Mar. 10, 2011)

Posted by Johnson & Johnson, LLP | Mar 10, 2011 | 0 Comments

Sanctions Cut for Firm That Hired Pellicano

Daily Journal

March 10, 2011

By Ciaran McEvoy

LOS ANGELES – A state appellate court Wednesday reduced a $220,000 sanction issued against a law firm associated with imprisoned ex-private investigator Anthony Pellicano for filing what a lower court deemed were frivolous anti-SLAPP motions.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal reduced the sanction against Los Angeles law firm Gaims, Weil, West & Epstein LLP, whose client, ex-music industry executive Robert Pfeifer, hired Pellicano to investigate his ex-girlfriend, Erin Finn.

Finn and her one-time neighbor, Michael Gerbosi, later sued Pellicano, the Gaims Weil law firm and name partner Alan J. Weil, alleging invasion of privacy because their telephone calls had been intercepted. The defendants countered with anti-SLAPP motions to dismiss the complaints.

In 2009, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman Jr. ruled the motions were frivolous and slammed Gaims Weil with the sanction. The firm appealed.

In a 17-page decision Wednesday, Justice Tricia A. Bigelow reversed Lichtman in part, writing for a unanimous court that the sanction should be reduced. The court also ruled Finn's allegations of unlawful wiretapping against the law firm could proceed, but it struck down other parts of her lawsuit, as well as her request for attorney fees. The court affirmed Gerbosi's complaint, ruling he was entitled to attorney fees.

“Under the anti-SLAPP statute, Gaims' motion would have had merit only if predicated on a showing that Gerbosi sued Gaims for exercising its constitutional rights, which he did not,” Bigelow wrote.

California law forbids so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, which are intended to intimidate critics by saddling them with heavy legal bills.

The sanction was sent back to Superior Court Judge Carl J. West, who now presides over the consolidated Pellicano civil cases in Los Angeles, for recalculation.

The litigation represents one of several lawsuits still bobbing in the wake of the Pellicano wiretapping scandal that pit plaintiffs claiming to be victims of wiretapping against the law firms that worked with the private eye.

Bert H. Deixler of Kendall Brill & Klieger LLP, who represents the defendants, declined to comment since he had not yet read the decision.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Neville L. Johnson of Johnson & Johnson LLP, said it is uncommon for respondents in anti-SLAPP motions to get sanctions.

“Mr. Weil remains a defendant, and his firm, in a case where he is accused of wiretapping,” said Johnson, who represents Finn and Gerbosi. “It isn't good.”

The litigation is the latest chapter in the dysfunctional love affair between Pfeifer and Finn. Pfeifer pleaded guilty in 2006 to aiding and abetting an illegal wiretap and testified against Pellicano at two trials two years later. He admitted in court of feeling emotions of “obsessive love” towards Finn, who testified she worked as a paid escort without Pfeifer's knowledge.

Gerbosi v. Gaims, Weil, West & Epstein LLP, B219587 (decision filed March 9, 2011)

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