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Male model Berto Luna’s lawsuit against Playgirl magazine is over, but the misery lingers. Luna’s attorney, sole practitioner Jeffery Rubenstein, says he chose to be candid with the court about his own health problems and opposing counsel took advantage of it. For his part, federal Judge A. Howard Matz says Rubenstein subjected him to “vexatious, rule-violating misconduct” that was “disastrous” for a possibly legitimate complaint. Given that the Los Angeles judge dismissed the suit in April — and in June sanctioned Rubenstein $41,000 and his client $69,000 — Playgirl was technically the winner. But Playgirl‘s attorney, Kent Raygor of Los Angeles’ Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, says he and his client were damaged beyond any compensation he expects to collect. And what about Luna, whom the magazine called a “raven-haired, chocolate-eyed stunner”? According to his attorney, the court proceedings so terrified him that he fled to Mexico and disappeared. It all started with Luna posing for a Playgirl layout titled “Full Moon.” His 1998 suit alleged that, without authorization, the magazine used a photo from the original session in later editions in an ad for a phone sex line. The magazine responded that Luna signed a release selling all rights to the photos. Playgirl, which is based in New York, removed the suit to federal court and filed a counterclaim. Matz’s order recounts a series of incidents in which Rubenstein failed to appear or to take steps ordered by the court, even after his “expression of contrition” led the court to extend deadlines. Rubenstein responded that his behavior was an “embarrassment” but didn’t amount to bad faith. Representing Playgirl in photo flaps is familiar ground for Raygor, who heads Sheppard Mullin’s intellectual property and technology section. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are among the plaintiffs he’s routed on Playgirl‘s behalf. He’s good-natured about suggestions his specialty is Beefcake Defense but quickly translates that appellation to First Amendment lawyer. Yes, he says, he did “struggle a bit” with the personal side of seeking sanctions against a lawyer after, he says, seeing Rubenstein’s court declaration about the death of his twin brother, his hospitalization for five weeks last spring, and his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and chemical dependence. But Raygor concluded that the best thing to do was to publicize the sanction in a Sept. 12 press release and send an information packet to the California State Bar. Rubenstein, who was a deputy district attorney before going into private practice, says he’s never been sanctioned before. “I’m a good guy,” he says. “It wasn’t enough for Raygor to win. He had to take me down, too.”

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