A Los Angeles judge threw out a lawsuit against TheWrap News on Wednesday, ruling that an article about movie financier Elisabeth Thieriot (pictured) was both accurate and "took pains" in reporting on a production dispute with her co-producer.
Judge Barbara M. Scheper of Los Angeles Superior Court sided with the news organization in granting an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss Thieriot's complaint on the grounds that it had no probability of success on its merits.
"Plaintiff fails to produce evidence showing that the statements in the article were false," Scheper said in the order.
"A review of the article demonstrates that defendants took pains to describe the claims against plaintiff as accusations or allegations," wrote the judge in her ruling. She added that the article by TheWrap reporter Steve Pond took care to discuss questions about co-producer Raul Julia-Levy's veracity, "even going so far as to include links to stories in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times that called into question Levy's credibility."
Read the full order here.
The order noted. "[T]here is nothing in the specific language or the tenor of the article that insinuates that defendants believe that Levy's accusations are true."
Contacted by TheWrap, Thieriot's attorney was not able to offer comment as he had not yet reviewed the judge's order.
At issue was a May 9 article written by Pond that detailed Julia-Levy's claims to Mexican authorities that San Francisco-based philanthropist and author Thieriot had fled Mexico, where the film was being produced, with two dozen hard drives and 10 computer towers containing the film's footage.
Thieriot, the wife of former newspaper publisher Charles Thieriot, sued TheWrap for defamation and false-light invasion of privacy, claiming that TheWrap made false accusations about her and that the website should have known that Julia-Levy's truthfulness had been called into question previously due to earlier published reports.
Judge Scheper disagreed, granting TheWrap's motion to dismiss on anti-SLAPP grounds. (The anti-SLAPP statute is designed to discourage lawsuits that are intended to censor or intimidate critics by burdening them with costly legal proceedings.)
Scheper found that the article, "Mayan Mystery: Doc Financier Accused of Fleeing With Film Footage," was "of public interest" in that Thieriot and Julia-Levy are figures whom the public has taken an interest in.
The judge also found that Thieriot had not proven that the article contained any falsehoods and that it merely reported on Julia-Levy's claims against Thieriot.
"The article reports on allegations made by Levy against plaintiff," Scheper's order read. "The article at multiple points indicates that the accusations came from Levy and the article at no point states that plaintiff actually committed the alleged acts."
As for Thieriot's claim that TheWrap glazed over prior accusations of dishonesty against Julia-Levy, the judge found, to the contrary, that TheWrap actually went out of its way to point them out.
TheWrap's editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman hailed the judge's decision as a win for freedom of the press.
"I'm thrilled to know that the First Amendment is alive and well in the state of California," Waxman said. "We always believed that this was a spurious lawsuit that would fail under the most basic challenge under the anti-SLAPP law. We are very grateful to see that indeed it was."
Under the anti-SLAPP statute, Thieriot must pay TheWrap's attorney fees. Thieriot has the right to appeal the ruling, though it is not known if she plans to do so.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.