We write this post with heavy hearts.
Yesterday, you see, we lost a great friend. After an all-too-brief existence, the defamation lawsuit filed against Ryan Braun by intrepid online law student (and RRSMB commenter) Ralph Sasson was unceremoniously kicked to the curb. We gleefully covered the suit’s filing in this space last year, we closely followed its twists and turns over the last 10 months (read: we totally forgot it was still alive until like 36 hours ago), and now, with its passing, Paul and I slap on our lawyer hats once again for our latest and greatest edition of BETTER ASK A LAWYER.
So what happened yesterday?
The long and short of it: Ralph Sasson’s case against Ryan Braun and Ryan Braun’s agent and Ryan Braun’s agent’s agency and Ryan Braun’s hair got thrown out of court. That result, in and of itself, wasn’t surprising.
Yeah. Didn’t you guys tell us last summer that was going to happen? What took so long?
We did. And we were wrong about how quickly it would happen — we figured the case wouldn’t survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which is legalese for: “Even assuming everything you say is true, you don’t have a case.” Sasson got past that stage of the game, which allowed him to begin what we call the discovery process: requesting documents from Braun and Braun’s agent, asking them to admit to certain things, and, most importantly, taking depositions of some of the defendants. And that was ultimately Sasson’s undoing: the judge found yesterday (among other things) that Sasson was being such an unrepentant shithead (my words, not the judge’s) during discovery that his case had to be dismissed.
Oh. What was he doing?
Lots of stuff. You might remember that, right at the beginning of the case, we noted how Sasson’s first set of discovery requests to Braun were completely ridiculous and irrelevant; he asked Braun to admit he cheated on tests and his girlfriend and his ex-girlfriends and Aaron Rodgers and didn’t actually like Remetees and so on. None of that, of course, matters when the issue in the lawsuit is whether Braun said something factually untrue about Sasson that caused people to think less of Sasson.
Probably not surprisingly, things, um, escalated from there: because Sasson was making these puzzling requests and, apparently, seeking to depose people who had nothing to do with his case, the judge did a couple of very unusual things earlier this year: one was to conduct the depositions in the judge’s chambers so he could immediately rule on objections, which any lawyer will tell you is practically unheard of. (This is what depositions, conducted without judges, usually look like.) The other was to order that filings had to be made under seal — which means that documents, depositions, etc, were only to be seen by the judge, lawyers, and parties, and not made available or disclosed to the public.
Ralph Sasson, the judge found, wasn’t very good at following that order.
Why did the judge put all of this under seal in the first place?
You will be shocked to learn that Sasson appeared more interested in fishing for embarrassing facts about Braun than he was about actually proving his case. The court was worried that all of these weird and totally irrelevant allegations would prejudice a jury against Braun and so he ordered everything — including the deposition of Braun’s agent, Nez Balelo — under seal. In its order, the court found that Sasson not only revealed the content of that sealed deposition to the General Counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, but he also lied about what Balelo actually said (more on that later).*
* This is, ironically, defamation.
The judge also says that Sasson was making bizarre objections to discovery requests from Braun’s lawyers. Just out of curiosity: did Sasson attempt at any point to assert the attorney-client privilege even though that privilege covers communications between an attorney and his/her client, and Sasson is a non-lawyer representing himself?
You bet he did.
What did the court think of that?
“…they are for the most part, nonsensical, and without a valid legal basis.”
How does objecting to discovery work, anyway?
In litigation, both sides serve requests on each other seeking documents that will help them prove their case. The evidence sought must be non-privileged (meaning it’s not something you told your lawyer or your pastor or your wife), and either relevant to that party’s claim or defense, or reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. In short, you can’t just go asking for everything that anyone has ever said or written. Both sides are allowed to make objections and those objections usually have to do with the breadth of the request (i.e., you’re asking for too much stuff), the availability of the evidence (i.e., we don’t have this and can’t get it, or you have just as much access to this as we do), or the privileged nature of that evidence (i.e., this is something my lawyer wrote to me). In almost every case, there is usually some minor battling over discovery, but by and large judges hate to get involved in discovery disputes and both sides usually come to some sort of agreement on the subject.
What they do not do is write the following, which Sasson submitted in his responses to the requests from Braun’s lawyers:
“Plaintiff’s responses shall not be deemed to constitute admissions that any statement or characterization in Interrogatories/Requests for Production/Request for Admission is accurate or complete.”
I know when people see legalese their eyes tend to glaze over, but that’s not legalese. That’s barely English. That’s just nonsense. Doesn’t mean a damn thing. I’m not sure what book he copied it out of but he should take it out back and burn it as soon as possible. The court had this to say:
“The verbiage of General Objection No. 3 is incoherent and lacks any apparent legal foundation.”
But Sasson’s single biggest issue wasn’t his nonsensical writing. In his complaint, he claimed he had evidence that Braun defamed him in writing. (We call this libel. We call defamatory statements that are made orally slander.) When Braun’s side asked him for these documents in discovery, Sasson objected to turning them over. You … you can’t, you know, do that.
Braun’s side filed a motion to compel (which is what you file when you think someone is impermissibly holding something back) and Sasson provided a printout of a Facebook page containing a private conversation with one of his friends (and nothing from Braun). Finally, Sasson admitted he had nothing else.
So all he had to show that Ryan Braun had defamed him in writing was a Facebook message from someone who’s NOT Ryan Braun?
Yep. And because that’s all he had, he then tried to change track and use a legal theory called “compelled self-publication,” which is used sometimes (and not with very much success) when, say, a former employee wants to sue an employer for defamation. You’ll recall, young padawans, that when you want to sue someone for defamation, one of the things you have to prove is that the defendant published (that is, made public to one or more people) the false information. So if, for example, your former employer fired you because another employee accused you of trying to have sex with the toaster in the break room, and you claimed it wasn’t true (because, honestly, who tries to put his hoo-hoo-dilly in a toaster?), you might try to sue your former employer under a theory of “compelled self-publication,” which gets you around the issue of your employer not publishing the information. In other words, you’re saying: When I’m now applying for jobs, and I list you as a former employer, I have to tell prospective employers that I got fired because someone said I was trying to boink the toaster. I’m COMPELLED to make your false accusations public.
Sasson, it seems, was trying to argue that the defamatory writing from Braun was (deep breath) Sasson’s own lawsuit, which contained Braun’s alleged defamatory (oral) statements.
Did that fly?
About as well as that toaster you were lubing up with KY.
What’s the worst thing Sasson did during the case, in your opinion?
Legally speaking, all of this stuff is pretty bad, but my favorite (keeping in mind Ryan Braun’s Jewish background) is probably this statement from the court’s order:
“Sasson’s habit of making Jewish jokes and references to the Jewish attorneys involved in this case is particularly inappropriate.”
Sasson also sought sanctions against one of Braun’s attorneys for saying “shit” in the hallway following a hearing while simultaneously swearing like a sailor throughout the duration of this case, including during his own deposition.
Bronze medal: the court also notes that Sasson made this “threat” to opposing counsel in a voicemail:
“I’m a reasonable cat, but don’t come at me with unreasonable shit. “Cause when you start acting unreasonable, I’m going to act unreasonable, too. And just like I told Jeremiah, when I get unreasonable I start to discriminate indiscriminately.” As FJM’s Ken Tremendous once wrote, phrases like “I start to discriminate indiscriminately” are poetry for the half-wit.
Man, this seems really out there. Nothing involved with the case could be crazier than this. Could it?
Make no mistake: Sasson’s shenanigans are totally nuts, and my face was reacquainted with my palm at several points while reading the judge’s recitation of what Sasson’s been up to for the last few months. But none of that stuff is the wackiest thing to happen in the case. Nope: it was footnote 2 of the judge’s order that left my jaw on the floor, where the judge mentioned that during his deposition, Nez Balelo acknowledged that he’d hired (and had the approval of the head of the MLBPA to hire) Sasson to help with Braun’s appeal.
Last summer, we were scratching our heads when we wrote: “The high-powered agent for very, very rich baseball players reaches out to a dude living in Milwaukee with no apparent training as a private investigator who describes himself as a law student … to do recon on one of those very, very rich baseball players, and (1) dude doesn’t immediately realize that it’s Braun?, and (2) for emphasis’ sake, what the hell?”
And yet: it sounds like that’s exactly what happened.
Again, and for the sake of emphasis: WHAT IN THE BLUE FUCK.
The judge said at the end of the order that he’s dismissing the case “with prejudice.” That seems bad.
That is bad. When a case gets dismissed, the judge has two options: one is to give the person who filed the case an opportunity for a do-over, to correct the mistakes he’d made and re-start the case. We call that a dismissal without prejudice. The other option, and the one that’s reserved for the cases involving the most egregious conduct, is a dismissal with prejudice, which means: you’re done. Your case is gone, and you can’t file it again.
It’s a very severe penalty, and, generally speaking, you only see it in cases where the plaintiff has gone really out of bounds — by withholding evidence that the other side is absolutely entitled to see, by willfully and repeatedly disobeying the court’s orders, by pursuing litigation for vexatious (taken from the Latin word for: just to annoy the piss out of) purposes.
Leaving voicemails for the defense lawyers referring to them as “cupcake”?
Yeah, that too.
Listen: lawyers — and especially highly-paid civil litigation lawyers — are not the most pleasant people in the world. We’re generally (1) aggressive Type A personalities who aren’t very good at listening and (2) miserable, not only because of our massive student loan debt, long hours, and difficult clients, but also because we spend most of our time dealing with aggressive Type A personalities who aren’t very good at listening. Ask any lawyer who’s been around for a few years and you’ll probably hear that there’s been a marked increase in incivility between opposing counsel (and, hell, between judges and counsel, and even judges and other judges) recently. Lawyers are just kind of dicks to each other, is what I’m saying.
All of that said: I’ve never heard someone call opposing counsel “cupcake” before. As Lawrence once said in Office Space: “I believe you’d get your ass kicked sayin’ some shit like that, man.”
Suffice it to say: based on all of this, the judge found that what Ralph Sasson was doing was way, way out of line, so he invoked what amounts to the nuclear option.
What does that mean for Sasson, going forward? He can try to pursue an appeal of the judge’s decision, but that’s generally a tall task. The better option, in my mind, would be to accept our standing invitation to join RRSMB as our senior legal and cupcake correspondent.
Until then, though, we say: good night, Sweet Prince. Thanks for the memories.