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Before Beverly Hills attorney Keith Davidson landed in a heap of controversy over his role negotiating hush payments for porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, there was Davidson’s 2015 attempt to broker a $50,000 settlement that would have benefited former CBS chairman Leslie Moonves. What happened was the subject of a ruling on Thursday by a California appeals court.
As the story is told in the opinion, a waiter and actor named Gabriel Rueda thought he could finally make the long-dreamed boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao happen. Rueda knew Pacquiao’s boxing trainer, Freddie Roach.
Rueda told this to Moonves, who regularly patronized the West Hollywood restaurant where Rueda worked. Moonves, who was ousted from CBS a month ago amid accusations of sexual misconduct, was interested and asked for an introduction to Roach.
According to the lawsuit that would later follow, Moonves assured Rueda he “would be taken care of financially” if the fight occurred — with Moonves and Roach later allegedly agreeing to pay Rueda two percent of gross proceeds earned from a fight that would later bring in hundreds of millions of dollars.
After the 2015 “fight of the century,” Rueda wanted his finder’s fee.
Moonves told Rueda that CBS and Showtime made no money on the fight but he would facilitate a discussion with the Pacquiao camp for payment.
That’s when Davidson came into the picture.
At a coffee shop around town, Davidson allegedly offered $50,000 and work as an actor if Rueda would “release everybody [from claims], including Moonves, Showtime and CBS.” And if Rueda didn’t take the offer, Davidson allegedly said Rueda would lose his job as a waiter and “never work as an actor in this town again.”
Rueda says he rejected the offer only to be continually harassed in the following weeks.
About eight months later, Rueda sued Pacquiao, Roach, Davidson, CBS and Showtime, alleging that the defendants had breached contract and committed fraud by stiffing him of the finder’s fee. He also alleged extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress on the part of Pacquiao and Davidson.
The issue for the appeals court was whether these latter claims arose from protected First Amendment activity — namely, prelitigation settlement communications. The California appeals court rejects the proposition from Davidson and Pacquiao that it does.
“The anti-SLAPP statute does not protect prelitigation statements made under circumstances where future litigation is merely a ‘possibility’…” states the opinion (read here). “The record here shows litigation was no more than a theoretical possibility when Davidson allegedly threatened Rueda. At that time, Rueda was doing nothing more than attempting to personally assert his claim to a finder’s fee.”
The appeals court also addresses Davidson’s bid to release Moonves and CBS from claims.
According to the opinion, “The mere fact that Davidson apparently thought it prudent to secure a release that would prevent Rueda from suing does not mean Davidson must have thought Rueda was seriously considering litigation. Requests or demands for a legal release are, to be sure, often made under circumstances when litigation is in the offing, but not only in those circumstances.”
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