Daily Journal – California's Largest Legal News Provider
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Sanctions Cut for Firm That Hired Pellicano
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)