Famed Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos will have to face a defamation suit over his Twitter posts implying that record producer Dr. Luke raped Lady Gaga.
Geragos, known for his public commentary on CNN and roster of celebrity clients, has represented singer Kesha Sebert in litigation against Dr. Luke, claiming he sexually assaulted her when she first moved to Los Angeles as a budding star. Dr. Luke, whose real name is Lukasz Gottwald, has fought back with defamation suits accusing Kesha, her mother, Geragos and his L.A. law firm, Geragos & Geragos, of engaging in a public smear campaign against him.
On Tuesday, a New York state court judge refused to dismiss the case against Geragos and his firm, concluding that Dr. Luke’s defamation claims are “minimally adequate” and can proceed.
“Here, plaintiff has pleaded allegations which, if true, may state a legally cognizable cause of action against defendants,” wrote New York Supreme Court Judge Robert Reed. He ordered both sides to move forward on discovery, “particularly as it relates to the substance of the various asserted defenses, including the various assertions of privilege.”
Geragos wrote in an email: “I have a great lawyer but I may go pro [se] so I can personally take this slimeball’s deposition myself.”
Jeffrey Movit, a New York partner at Los Angeles-based Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, who represents Dr. Luke, did not respond to a request for comment.
Geragos had sought to dismiss the defamation case on various grounds, including that the statements were protected under absolute litigation privilege since they were relevant to pending lawsuits between the parties.
His lawyer, Edward Kelly of Kelly, Rode & Kelly in Mineola, New York, argued that the statements on Twitter are constitutionally protected expressions of opinion under New York law and must be viewed through the prism and culture of social media.
“[T]he law involving defamation, slander and libel as applicable to statements made through channels such as Twitter, Facebook and the like has begun to adapt and evolve,” Kelly wrote in an affidavit. That’s especially true, he noted, when posters “resort to rhetorical hyberbole in interaction with other users.”
Dr. Luke’s suit, filed in 2014, focuses on a Twitter post in which Geragos linked to a radio interview that Howard Stern broadcast with Lady Gaga, who said she had been sexually assaulted when she was 19 by a record producer whom she refused to identify. In his post, Geragos wrote: “Guess who the rapists [sic] was?” to which one of his followers replied: “are you insinuating someone that kesha fans would know of?” Geragos responded with: “#ohyes” followed by “#namethepervert” four times. When one follower responded “lukasz,” Geragos wrote: “#bingo.”
“Fueled by his insatiable desire for attention and malice towards the plaintiff, Geragos and his law firm have now made the horrific, outrageous and maliciously false assertion that the plaintiff raped the world famous musical artist Lady Gaga,” the complaint says. “This time, Geragos has gone way too far with his arrogant and irresponsible conduct; he has lost all sense of ethics, propriety and decency. His conduct disgraces the entire legal profession and in no way serves any client he represents.”
Geragos later stated in an article on celebrity news site TMZ that he made the post “because it’s true,” though Lady Gaga later denied the assertion.
In its motion to dismiss, Geragos & Geragos cast doubt about whether anyone should take TMZ that seriously given that it is “not news, it is entertainment.”
“Quite simply, Mr. Geragos was commenting on the article and engaging in discussion with the public, as he frequently does,” Kelly wrote in the affidavit. “Posting the provocative comment ‘guess the rapist’ on Twitter clearly implies the poster’s intent to engage in a non-serious, gossipy and hyberbolic interaction. Additionally, the use of the term ‘bingo’ in and of itself suggests a lack of seriousness.”
In addition to litigation privilege, both Geragos and his firm claimed the statements fell under qualified privilege dealing with moral and social matters, and entertainment privilege involving a public figure, and that the complaint failed to allege malice and reckless disregard. The suit also should have been filed in California, not New York, they wrote, but Reed refused to transfer the case in his order, noting that Geragos and his firm “have put themselves out as New York legal service providers.”