An appellate court panel on Thursday affirmed a judge’s decision to throw out a freelance cartoonist’s defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times.
Ted Rall, who drew cartoons and wrote blog posts for The Times for several years, filed suit in 2016. The newspaper, he alleged, had defamed him by publicly questioning the accuracy of a post he wrote for The Times’ OpinionLA blog.
The suit stemmed from a May 2015 piece accompanying one his cartoons, in which Rall criticized the Los Angeles Police Department’s crackdown on jaywalking and recalled his experience of getting ticketed for the offense more than a decade earlier.
The police department disputed Rall’s account and in a note to readers two months later, Nicholas Goldberg, editor of The Times' editorial pages, said LAPD records, including an officer’s audiotape of the encounter, raised “serious questions” about the post’s accuracy.
“Rall’s future work,” Goldberg wrote, “will not appear in The Times.”
The cartoonist sued the The Times in 2016 alleging that the paper had defamed him and that he was wrongfully terminated. A year later, an L.A. County Superior Court judge threw out key parts of the case against individual defendants, and eventually dismissed the remainder of the suit. Rall appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal and on Thursday a three-justice panel affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
The panel found that Rall failed to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on his claims.
“A newspaper’s decision to publish or not to publish a contributor’s work,” they wrote, “is protected by the 1st Amendment.”
Rall’s attorney Roger Lowenstein expressed frustration with the ruling.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” he said, “that the set of laws designed to protect the 1st Amendment ends up crushing the most vulnerable journalists.”