Sanctioned Big Law Associate Sues NY Post, Daily News for Defamation

Sanctioned Big Law Associate Sues NY Post, Daily News for Defamation Credit: Lya_Cattel/iStockphoto.com

Former Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo associate Anthony Zappin, whose behavior during his divorce case earned him tabloid headlines and sanctions from a New York judge, has now lobbed defamation claims against the New York Post and New York Daily News.

It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for Zappin, whose conduct while representing himself in the divorce put him in the public spotlight last year. On top of the divorce and a related child custody fight, Zappin’s mother, Leigh Anne Zappin, pleaded guilty in 2014 to embezzling more than $30,000 from a food bank in West Virginia.

Zappin also lost his job at Mintz Levin, which he had joined after stints at Latham & Watkins and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Mintz Levin fired Zappin last year, after New York State Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper cited him for a “maelstrom of misconduct” in the divorce proceedings.

The judge fined Zappin $10,000 in September, blasting him for castigating judges in open court and bullying a lawyer who was appointed to represent the interests of his 2-year-old son. The judge’s fury sparked several articles by the New York Post and the New York Daily News, which trumpeted accusations that Zappin was “a monster” and that he beat his wife. (Zappin, who denied the abuse claims, was married to Claire Comfort, a litigation associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges.)

Now the former Big Law associate has launched an offensive against the newspapers, claiming that they defamed him in their coverage of the case.

Zappin told The Am Law Daily that he plans to file a formal complaint against both of the media companies this week. In December, Zappin, representing himself, filed a summons in a New York state court in Manhattan, saying that he intended to pursue defamation claims against the New York Post, the Daily News and their respective parent companies, NYP Holdings Inc. and Daily News LP.

The summons doesn’t contain detailed allegations, but it indicates that Zappin’s claims may include infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and misappropriation of his likeness, in addition to defamation. The summons asked for default judgments of $10 million apiece if the Post or Daily News failed to respond to the case.

Both newspapers have made initial responses in court, filing separate demands on Jan. 11 for Zappin to submit a formal complaint against them. Davis Wright Tremaine’s Robert Balin and Eric Feder represent the Post, while in-house lawyer Matthew Leish is defending the Daily News.

Balin on Wednesday referred a request for comment to the Post, which didn’t immediately respond. Leish declined to comment.

In an email, Zappin declined to provide specific details on the claims he plans to include in the complaint, which he said he expected to file late Wednesday.

Zappin also declined to comment on another pending defamation case he brought in October in West Virginia federal court against Gray Television Group Inc., which owns Huntington television station WSAZ News Channel 3.

That case relates to an altercation between Zappin and a local newspaper reporter in September 2014, following the sentencing hearing in the embezzlement case against Zappin’s mother. According to WSAZ’s news reports, the station caught an incident on camera in which Zappin appeared to knock a voice recorder from the hands of a newspaper reporter and then stomp on it.

In an amended complaint filed Tuesday in the West Virginia case, Zappin alleges that WSAZ deliberately edited the video in a way that unfairly depicts him as the aggressor. Zappin maintains that, prior to what can be seen on the video, the newspaper reporter struck him in the face with the voice recorder. “Startled and scared that it was some other instrument, plaintiff knocked the tape recorder out of [the reporter’s] hand,” Zappin wrote.

WSAZ is defended in the case by Charleston, West Virginia-based lawyer David Barnette of Jackson Kelly. The TV station in January filed a motion to dismiss Zappin’s original complaint from October, but it hasn’t yet responded to the amended complaint. Barnette said on Wednesday that he believes the amended complaint is without merit.

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