Thursday, January 7, 2010

Westchester Guardian Article/Sam Zherka.

Guardian Publisher Takes Seibel Dismissals To Federal Appeals Court

Cases Dismissed By District Court Judge Cathy Seibel Going To Second Circuit

Civil Actions Brought By Guardian Publisher Sam Zherka Are Among More Than 1,500 Dismissed Under Ashcroft v. Iqbal

United States District Court White Plains, New York Judge Cathy Seibel Presiding

This reporter was present in Federal District Court, White Plains, several weeks ago when Judge Cathy Seibel served notice of her intention to dismiss cases brought by Guardian publisher Sam Zherka against Yonkers Mayor Philip Amicone, Deputy Mayor John Fleming, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, and attorney and political consultant Michael Edelman for Defamation and Slander engaged in by way of First Amendment retaliation, conspiring to damage his good name and reputation.

Among the activities claimed by plaintiff Zherka were public statements of untruthful assertions of criminal activity about Zherka by Mayor Amicone before a large gathering of prominent Westchester citizens; repeated internet postings by Michael Edelman falsely alleging criminal activities by Zherka; and Abuse of Process and harrassment of Zherka and many of his friends and business associates by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office involving ADA Bogdanos.

All of the named defendants, were, and are, closely connected to and associated with Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who had telephoned Zherka, and who was recorded threatening him with reprisal because she was displeased with information published in The Guardian concerning political activities by her spouse, attorney Dennis Glazer.

Judge Seibel had admitted many months earlier, when the cases were first filed and assigned to her, that she had a personal relationship with Janet DiFiore, but nevertheless refused, despite that admission, to recuse herself.

Seibel’s dismissal comes under the dictates of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a case out of the Second Circuit that was argued be fore the United States Supreme Court, December 10, 2008 and decided May 18, 2009. The socalled Iqbal Decision, as it has come to be known, in effect has given great latitude to District Court judges to dismiss cases in the pleading stage based on their perception of the case’s plausibility, and has created quite a stir throughout the federal court system, among legal scholars, and in the halls of Congress. New York Congressman Jerry Nadler and Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter have each promised to sponsor legislation to blunt, if not curtail, its influence.

Iqbal, in seven short months, has fundamentally changed the process and expectations in the pleadings stage of civil actions brought before federal courts. The Federal Rules Of Civil Procedure, Rule 8(a)(2) of the General Rules of Pleading, simply called for “A short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”

A legal analyst writing for the highly regarded law firm Mayer, Brown three days after the ruling was handed up, observed “The United States Supreme Court’s opinion in Ashcroft v. Iqbal significantly increases the factual detail required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) in order to state a claim.”

In practical terms, under Iqbal, typical plaintiffs bringing a civil action against a corporate entity or government agency for many decades have not been expected to provide in their initial pleadings the level of explicit detail that, in most cases, comes to light through discovery. By now demanding such detailed information from plaintiffs in their initial pleadings, District Court judges are virtually throwing up a protective barrier, a shield around defendants, preventing good-faith, well-meant plaintiffs from proceeding, and from reaching the discovery necessary to prosecute their legitimate claims.

Publisher Zherka’s actions, filed long in advance of the Iqbal Decision, present numerous witnesses, audio and videotapes, photographs, and affidavits, little, or none of which,
Judge Seibel, with all due respect, seemed to have taken the trouble to become aware of as we observed her on November 20th when attorney Rory Bellantoni referenced them. In fairness to the judge, at a prior appearance several weeks earlier, she had asked attorney Jonathan Lovett, of Lovett & Bellantoni, to provide her with greater detail, which he certainly did in his amended pleadings.

Zherka, confused by the Judge’s dismissals, told this reporter, “There is so much evidence in our pleadings the case is a poster child for Iqbal.” He indicated that he was “definitely appealing the dismissals to the Second Circuit”, where he was confident they would be reversed, but, that he was “prepared, if necessary, to go all the way to the Supreme Court.” Additionally, he indicated he would be bringing an action against each of the defendants, individually, for Defamation and Slander in State Court.

Analysis:
Iqbal, a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is by far and away the most telling and potentially destructive outcome to date to come from the Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority established under President George W. Bush. In writing the Majority Opinion, Kennedy declared, “Rule 8(a)(2) demands more than an unadorned the-defendant- unlawfully-harmed-me accusation and requires that a complaint be factually plausible.”

Mayer, Brown observed, “The decision in Iqbal thus suggests that a federal court no longer need draw factual inferences in favor of the complainant if it believes that a competing interpretation is more plausible.” Commenting just three days after the decision, they go on to say, “Although it remains to be seen whether lower federal courts will interpret Iqbal as abandoning Notice Pleading altogether, the opinion raises the pleading bar substantially and provides defendants with important ammunition to a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for failing to state a claim.”

Now, seven months, and more than 1,500 Iqbal dismissals later, we recognize that Iqbal creates a pretrial screen by which the more egregious and outrageous the conduct pleaded and alleged, the more likely it will be dismissed based upon a particular judge’s experiences, associations, and prejudices, all combining to determine that which she will consider “plausible”.

Regrettably, just as we were beginning to make some headway against prosecutorial misconduct, and major governmental and corporate acts of Constitutional violation, we
find ourselves hog-tied by a “Conservative” majority in the Supreme Court whose decision was designed to slow, if not interdict altogether, the process of uncovering unlawful actors, both in government and corporate enterprise.

In the meantime, Mike Edelman, whose malicious obsession with, and activity on, the blogosphere, is undisputed, continues to defame and malign publisher Sam Zherka as if having been granted a license to continue doing so by the decision of Judge Seibel.

His verbal graffiti, easily identified by other bloggers, can be found on the blogs of complicit media sources. And, of course, he continues to run his mouth frequently on News12 where he masquerades as a Republican commentator, a claim Doug Colety, Chairman of the Westchester Republican Party, has repeatedly refuted.

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