5:07pm PT by Jonathan Handel
Malicious Prosecution Claim Against Hollywood Sex Abuse Accuser Can Proceed, Says Judge
The malicious prosecution claim that television executive Garth Ancier filed against Hollywood sex abuse accuser Michael Egan and his former attorneys can proceed to a jury trial, a Hawaii federal judge ruled Wednesday, dismissing a motion brought by Egan's former attorney Jeff Herman that sought to end the case.
"Based on the allegations contained in the Complaint and the judicially noticed facts, the court finds that the Complaint plausibly alleges that Defendants dismissed the underlying action because they did not have a basis to bring it in the first place," said judge J. Michael Seabright.
The result, he implied, may be that the malicious prosecution trial will include "a case within the case"; that is, an examination of the underlying allegation by Egan, that Ancier — as well as X-Men director Bryan Singer, television executive David Neuman and producer Gary Goddard — sexually molested Egan during 1999 trips to Hawaii when Egan was 16 or 17 years old, as well as at an Encino mansion.
Those allegations — which all four of the formerly accused men deny — have never been tested in court, because Egan withdrew his lawsuits after his own prior sworn statements emerged that appeared to contradict the allegations in his suit. Those statements, which were made in the context of a 2000 sexual abuse suit that concerned the same Encino mansion, but that did not mention the four men Egan accused in 2014, included deposition testimony by Egan that he'd never been to Hawaii and had never been abused by anyone other than the three Internet executives he was suing in 2000, as well as a sworn document declaring that Neuman, in particular, had never abused him.
In addition, Singer, Goddard, Ancier and Neuman had submitted hundreds of pages of declarations and business documents to show that they'd not been in Hawaii on the alleged trips, and that Egan hadn't either.
But when Egan withdrew his 2014 suits, he retained the right to refile, and did in fact refile parallel suits months ago in Los Angeles. Those suits named anonymous defendants and were also subsequently withdrawn.
More recently, Egan told Seabright that he had retained counsel to sue yet again, even though he is representing himself in the malicious prosecution action. Seabright was unpersuaded.
The nature of the withdrawals — voluntary dismissals without prejudice, in legal parlance — are what complicated matters for Ancier. To prevail in his malicious prosecution action, Ancier has to show that the underlying action against him was terminated in his favor. But is a dismissal without prejudice a favorable termination for Ancier, given that the case can be refiled?
Herman said no, but the judge didn't agree.
Instead, said Seabright in his ruling, the answer depends on the facts — "voluntary dismissal of a prior action without prejudice may be a favorable termination, depending on the circumstances," he said, quoting from a Hawaii case — and therefore "whether the underlying action was terminated in Ancier's favor is a question for the jury, not the court."
That means that the case against Egan and the lawyers can proceed, although there may be room for later motions on other bases.
Egan's previous encounter with Seabright did not go well either. In October, the judge admonished Egan "not to lie to me" after Egan falsely claimed in court not to have received assistance with his legal papers. That incident escalated to the point that the judge finally said, "I'm not buying this. I'm a smart guy, I get it and don't underestimate me." Egan then conceded that a law firm had helped with the papers.
Egan, Herman and a rep for Ancier did not respond to a request for comment.
The court's ruling Wednesday wasn't a complete win for Ancier, since the judge dismissed a companion claim for abuse of process that alleged that the high-profile press conference at which Herman and Egan announced the suit was an improper attempt to damage Ancier's reputation and to troll for additional clients. "[S]tanding alone, the court rejects that an attorney holding a press conference to publicize allegations of child sexual abuse made in a public complaint is a willful act that is not proper in the regular conduct of the proceedings," the judge said, although he added that Ancier can amend his complaint if he wishes to try to overcome this part of the ruling.
Still, the key is the malicious prosecution claim, and unless the ruling is successfully appealed or the case settles, Ancier is a big step closer to an opportunity to definitively clear his name.