10:47am PT by Eriq Gardner
Gloria Allred on the Verge of Winning Lawsuit Over 'Stealing' John Travolta Accusers (Exclusive)
Gloria Allred is close to slapping away a lawsuit filed by another attorney for stealing clients who accused John Travolta of sexual assault.
In advance of a June 29 hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield has tentatively granted Allred's anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss claims made by lawyer Okorie Okorocha, who set off a tabloid firestorm in May when he represented a pair of anonymous masseurs in a lawsuit against Travolta that alleged inappropriate touching.
The John Doe lawsuit against Travolta was dismissed, and then the accusers signed up with Allred, leading Okorocha to sue her for tortious interference and unfair competition. The claims are now on the verge of being extinguished.
Last month, Okorocha says he learned of a conflict between representing both John Does, so he advised the first one to seek new counsel. Allred was hired.
But then the second John Doe left Okorocha and signed up with Allred too, leading Okorocha to sue, claiming she had interfered with his business.
Allred argued in her anti-SLAPP motion that Okorocha's claims are based upon a client’s exercise of constitutionally protected right to employ the counsel of one's own choice and to substitute counsel in civil litigation.
In reaction, Okorocha says that the First Amendment doesn't cover client poaching.
Linfield responded by pointing to a 2008 appellate decision, Taheri Law Group v. Evans, that turned on the client approaching the attorney for new representation. The case determined that a client's choice in lawyer fell under the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute, meant to protect individuals' First Amendment rights from legal abuse.
"Here too, Allred and [masseur John] Truesdale have submitted declarations stating that Allred did not steal Truesdale away from Okorocha," the judge wrote. "In response, Okorocha states that Allred 'simply lied to cover up her crimes.' "
Okorocha asserted that the Taheri case was "wrongly decided," but the judge responded that he can "no more ignore on-point authority from the Court of Appeal than it could ignore a mandate from the United States Supreme Court."
Thus, he concluded, "Allred has met her burden to show that the actions arise from protected activity."
In analyzing whether Okorocha has met a burden in showing a likelihood of success -- the second prong under the anti-SLAPP statute -- the judge concludes he hasn't, especially because Okorocha’s claims won't be able to survive the confidentiality that the client has with his lawyer. "Since Okorocha’s claims are premised upon activities protected by the litigation privilege, there is no possibility that Okorocha can prevail on his claim," said the judge.
Armed with mere hearsay about the defection of the Travolta accuser, Okorocha appears to have lost this battle.
Okorocha and Allred couldn't be reached for comment. Previously, Allred has promised to countersue Okorocha for defamation.