Monday, April 9, 2012


When filing a lawsuit, it is not unusual for lawyers to engage the media as part of a strategy to publicize the alleged sensational nature of the defendant's conduct and thus "soften up" the other side. In "A Litigation Communications Strategy Gone Awry?" I commented that before embarking on such a media campaign, lawyers should make sure that their clients can withstand the scrutiny and not have skeletons in their closets that undercut the message. However, helping a client explain a previously undisclosed embarrassing incident pales in comparison to being sanctioned when the court finds that the media campaign has been waged on behalf of a frivolous lawsuit.

That was the situation Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten confronted last week when he dismissed a lawsuit that Angelica Cecora had filed against former Olympic boxing gold medalist and welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya, alleging assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Cecora's suit, which sought $5 million in damages, stemmed from an alleged sexual encounter between her, her roommate, and De La Hoya in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Manhattan. After Judge Wooten granted De La Hoya's motion to dismiss the complaint, he addressed De La Hoya's motion for sanctions against Cecora and her attorney on the grounds that the claims of false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress were brought primarily to harass or injure him. Judge Wooten granted the motion, ruling that the two causes of action were "completely without merit in law and were undertaken primarily to harass or maliciously injure the defendant." Judge Wooten specifically cited Cecora's media campaign in support of his ruling:
"The Court notes that plaintiff and her attorney's intentional appeal to the media, including a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court building on the date of the court appearance, and plaintiff's attorney's attempt to embarrass the defendant in front of the media in the courtroom by making an issue of defendant's absence from the Court on the date of oral argument, knowing that it is common practice in civil cases for only attorneys to appear, is further evidence that plaintiff's motivation for maintaining two frivolous causes of action was to harass and maliciously injure the defendant. . . . The conduct of plaintiff is sanctionable for asserting and maintaining two frivolous causes of action, and the conduct of her attorney has crossed the line from zealous advocacy to that which is sanctionable."
Judge Wooten imposed a $500.00 sanction on both Cecora and her attorney, and also ruled that Cecora was required to reimburse De La Hoya for his reasonable attorneys fees and costs.

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