Celebrity Lawyer Loses First Round In LA Times Libel Case

A superior court judge indicated during a hearing on Thursday the likelihood of dismissing a libel lawsuit brought by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos against the Los Angeles Times.

Mark Geragos (screen Shot)

The lawsuit revolves around articles published by the Times regarding settlement funds from two class-action lawsuits against insurance companies New York Life and AXA. The suits involved unpaid life insurance claims for family members of victims of the Armenian genocide. Attorneys Mark Geragos, Brian Kabateck, and Vartkes Yeghiayan secured a combined $37.5 million settlement for these cases.

The settlement funds were designated for descendants, non-profit organizations, and churches. However, a 2022 story by the Times revealed that many beneficiaries did not receive their money. Yeghiayan accused Geragos and Kabateck of mishandling the funds before his death in 2017. In 2011, Geragos and Kabateck sued Yeghiayan, alleging he had engaged in a “shameful scheme” to misappropriate the fund. The lawsuit was settled in 2013, with Yeghiayan returning $31,000.

Following the publication of the initial article, the California State Bar announced a renewed investigation into Geragos and Kabateck, expressing gratitude to the LA Times for its reporting on the Armenian genocide settlement funds distribution. Geragos criticized the bar in a phone interview.

Geragos later sued the Times for libel, asserting that the newspaper’s investigative reporters, who had won Pulitzer Prizes, engaged in a “broadscale fishing expedition” to defame him. The Times responded with an anti-SLAPP motion, contending that Geragos’ claims were based on implication rather than factual errors.

During the recent hearing, Superior Court Judge Wendy Chang tentatively favored the Times’ motion, stating that the articles merely quoted individuals accusing Geragos. The judge noted that incorrect inferences drawn by readers did not render the content false or libelous.

Geragos’ attorney, Tina Glandian, requested a stay in the proceedings to conduct discovery, including examining the reporters’ internal communications. Glandian pointed to public reactions interpreting the articles as a character attack on Geragos.

LA Times attorney Kelli Sager argued against the defamation claim, asserting that unfavorable interpretations were subjective and not defamatory. The judge did not finalize her decision but indicated the potential for dismissal of the suit.

Following the hearing, Glandian expressed hope for a different outcome and stated an intention to appeal if necessary.

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