9:11am PT by Matthew Belloni
Why John Travolta Probably Won't Sue His Accusers for Malicious Prosecution
John Travolta's legal team has had a big week. Both masseurs who sued the actor for sexual battery and accused him of lewd conduct have dropped their lawsuits. The accusers then fired their lawyer Okorie Okorocha and hired Gloria Allred.
Amid all the media hoopla around the cases, one question not addressed is whether the actor could sue his accusers (and their lawyer) for malicious prosecution for bringing what Travolta contends were bogus cases. After all, the actor's lead lawyer Marty Singer threatened a malicious prosecution action against the accusers and Okorocha almost immediately after the first $2 million lawsuit was filed.
But Travolta almost certainly won't file such a case. That's because a malicious prosecution suit requires that Travolta first "win" the underlying case -- and because the suits were withdrawn voluntarily before Travolta filed an official response or asked a judge to dismiss them, a malicious prosecution case would fail.
That might seem unfair, given that the anonymous masseurs who sued as John Does (one has been unmasked by the New York Daily News) caused tons of damage to Travolta's reputation just by filing the suits. Others since have come forward with salacious tales about Travolta, and the press attention on his private life has never been more intense. The malicious prosecution cause of action is supposed to provide a mechanism to punish people who file frivolous actions that cause harm and force the defendant to waste his time in court.
But according to several experts we consulted on California procedural law, there's not much Travolta can do if the cases are voluntarily dismissed before he has a chance to formally answer. The law allows these people to quickly withdraw cases and move on (assuming Allred doesn't have additional lawsuits up her red sleeve).
Travolta still could pursue a defamation case against one or both of the masseurs — but again, there are big hurdles.
Statements made in litigation pleadings are protected from libel claims (the goal there is to make sure the threat of a defamation suit doesn't prevent people from saying what they believe in connection with bringing or defending against a lawsuit). So Travolta can't sue over all those salacious details -- including the alleged requests for sex acts, etc. -- in the lawsuit itself. He could, however, make a claim based on public statements about the case by the masseurs or their lawyer. It would be fairly easy for Singer to show that the statements have caused harm to Travolta's reputation, though the bar is higher for public figures in defamation cases. And of course, Travolta would need to prove that the statements are false, which, given the number of other accusers that have come forward, might not be a road he wishes to walk.
Still, perhaps Allred's most important advice might be to tell her clients to watch what they say about Travolta in public. They might find themselves being the ones sued.