Copy of lawsuit sent to newspaper not protected by libel privilege
CALIFORNIA — A statutory libel privilege for statements made in judicial proceedings does not protect a litigant who sent a copy of his complaint to a newspaper, the California Court of Appeal in San Jose ruled in early June.
In April 1993 Elias Shahvar filed a complaint against ASP Computer Products, Inc. in state superior courts in San Jose and San Rafael. Shahvar’s attorney also sent a copy of the complaint to the San Francisco Examiner, which published an article summarizing Shahvar’s allegations about ASP.
Based on the newspaper report, ASP cross- complained for libel against Shahvar. The appeals court upheld the San Jose trial court’s refusal to dismiss the libel claim.
The appeals court ruled that “statements about existing or anticipated litigation by a party or the party’s attorney to the news media . . . are not privileged. Such statements are extraneous to the action and are not made ‘in any . . . judicial proceeding.'”
Considering the same legal question in 1990, a California appeals court in Los Angeles ruled that a litigant was privileged to distribute a complaint to the press.
(Shahvar v. Superior Court; Libel Defendant’s Counsel: Robert H. Bunzel, San Francisco)