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Crank up the music and give Michael Flatley some room: The self-styled “Lord of the Dance” might be in rare form after a California appeal court ruled Thursday that he could proceed with a $100 million extortion suit against an Illinois lawyer. Los Angeles’ 2nd District Court of Appeal kept the case alive by upholding an order rejecting a SLAPP suit by D. Dean Mauro, a Waukegan, Ill., attorney who filed a $35 million suit falsely accusing the Irish dancer of raping an ex-stripper in a Las Vegas hotel room. “Mr. Mauro has effectively conceded, and it is undisputed his speech and conduct are crimes,” Justice Paul Turner wrote. “No prima facie showing has been made that Mr. Mauro’s speech and conduct are anything other than unprotected acts of extortion.” Justices Margaret Grignon and Orville Armstrong concurred. According to court papers, Flatley, famous for leading Irish dance troupes in the popular “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” road shows, met Tyna Marie Robertson, an Illinois resident and “an ex-stripper with a gambling habit,” in October 2002. They shared a night in a two-bedroom suite at The Venetian in Las Vegas. Twenty-five days later, Robertson called police to report she had been raped. Flatley denied the allegations, saying that the sex had been consensual. But, according to the ruling, Mauro spent the next few months calling the dancer’s lawyers at Santa Monica, Calif.’s Brandon & Morner-Ritt and Los Angeles’ Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger & Kinsella threatening to “go public” with the allegations, to “ruin” Flatley and demanding $1 million for his and Robertson’s silence. Robertson filed suit in July 2003, but dropped the case a few months later after Flatley countersued for civil extortion, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful interference with prospective economic advantage. Mauro responded by filing a SLAPP motion in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming he had been seeking a proper settlement, and therefore was engaged in protected activity, when he telephoned Flatley’s lawyers. L.A. Superior Court Judge Richard Hubbell rejected the SLAPP motion, and the appeal court agreed. “The problem is that Mr. Mauro went further than threatening to file a lawsuit and then disseminate the information about the complaint to journalists,” Justice Turner wrote. “Rather, in addition to the threatened lawsuit and media exposure, Mr. Mauro threatened criminal prosecution or publication of defamatory matter about the rape as a means of obtaining leverage in the proposed civil action if ‘seven figures’ was not paid. “The threat of criminal prosecution and to publish defamatory matters in order to induce payment of money is extortion under California law.” Turner went on to note that Mauro’s rape allegations were not a “protected activity” and were “clearly prohibited” by the state’s Penal Code, as well as the California and Illinois rules of professional conduct. Mauro couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. In fact, a telephone listing couldn’t be found for him anywhere in Waukegan or the larger Chicago area. But his lawyer, James Holmes, said Mauro is still practicing in Illinois. Holmes, a partner in the L.A. office of San Francisco’s Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, also said he was “disappointed” that the trial court didn’t address Mauro’s claim that his communications with Flatley’s lawyers were protected by the litigation privilege. “The only thing he did was represent his client,” Holmes said. “It’s all privileged.” Flatley’s appellate lawyer, Bertram Fields, a partner at Greenberg Glusker, was in Europe and unavailable for comment. The ruling is Flatley v. Mauro, 04 C.D.O.S. 8152.

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