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There’s a good chance that New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich is reading this story. After all, at a hearing earlier this week in the legal battle between Kesha Rose Sebert and Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwalt, the judge showcased how she’s voraciously consuming news about the case.
“I think there has been and there still is tremendous public attention to this case,” the judge told the lawyers. “Miss Sebert is constantly in the press; constantly, you know. And I even see my name in the press and I don’t understand why.”
Most observers probably think of the 3-year-old case as the one where Kesha alleges she was sexually assaulted by Luke, but for nearly six months now, it’s actually been a lot more about Luke’s claim that his reputation was tarnished by those allegations. What perhaps distinguishes this defamation lawsuit from most others, however, is the degree to which it’s become a case about a case. That might have been inevitable since the day Kesha’s former lawyer sent a draft of her complaint around, but with every story published about the feud, the parties can’t help but look outward to inform what’s happening inside.
Much of the media hasn’t particularly captured this dynamic. Some might not care. Others are too heavily invested in the angle of Kesha as victim to notice. And a good chunk of reporters are blinded by celebrity. For instance, Lady Gaga’s aborted resistance to a deposition got way more attention than the potentially more significant battle over whether three of the industry’s top public relations firms — Sunshine Sachs, 42West, and the Sitrick Group — would be compelled to hand over documents and testify about ways they’ve tried to influence the press.
On Friday, Kornreich forced Sunshine Sachs to comply with a subpoena. The judge also had some choice words for Mark Geragos, the star attorney who previously represented Kesha and was all over the news in the battle’s early days. For this, Geragos is not only the defendant in Luke’s other defamation suit, he’s been put on the hot seat in this one.
Kornreich writes in an order that she’s “dismayed at the conduct of a licensed attorney,” referring to how Geragos refused to answer questions at a deposition regarding his own communications to the press and his statements on Twitter.
The judge didn’t go as far as sanctioning him for how he was “woefully unprepared,” but did order him to refresh his recollections and learn answers before his next deposition. She also addressed some of his attorney-privilege arguments by ruling that whatever he told a PR firm is discoverable if there’s no legal advice evidenced. The judge writes, “The only reasonable inference that may be drawn from the record on this motion is that Mr. Geragos‘ communications were made purely for public relations purposes — and not for the purpose of providing legal advice in connection with this action. While he may have attempted to try this case in the press, that is not the same as actually trying the case.”
The ruling comes a few days after a hearing where the judge examined the need to depose the PR people in this fight. Kesha wanted to compel information from Luke’s PR firm, Sitrick.
Kornreich wondered if it was “just a tit-for-tat.”
After a discussion about the need to gather evidence of malice, Luke as a potential public figure, and Luke’s own PR apparatus, the judge got to talking about Kesha’s publicity tour for her recently released hit album, Rainbow.
The judge has some provocative thoughts on the subject after evidently doing a lot of reading.
“[E]ven though Mr. Gottwald agreed to her performing on the album and gave up his rights to — he specifically gave up his right to produce some of the songs, even though he said he would seek compensation, but he would not force her to have him work with her. He said that, and he gave that right up. That’s not in the press. But instead what she puts out in the press — he didn’t put that out in the press, even though that was a fact, she puts things out in the press instead. And it’s always her name I see in the press.”
“Your honor,” Kesha’s lawyer Alex Little interjected, “She’s an entertainer, she’s a musician. She has not spoken about this case. She’s done a ton of media on promoting the —”
Kornreich responded, “I saw a lot about this case and a lot about her new album and never has she said it’s because Mr. Gottwald said I could perform without him.”
The judge ultimately denied Kesha’s motion to depose Sitrick.
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