NEW YORK: Four defendants in the defamation lawsuit filed by comedian and satirist George Ouzounian that names Weber Shandwick and one its copywriters as defendants have requested the suit’s dismissal.
The suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court in November by Ouzounian, also known as the online personality Maddox, and his girlfriend, is seeking $20 million in damages. It alleges that Weber, the workplace of defendant Asterios Kokkinos, did not do enough to stop him from from creating an online harassment campaign against the couple.
Kokkinos’ lawyer filed paperwork on Saturday requesting the dismissal of the case. He cited free speech protections and claimed the New York court is not the proper jurisdiction for the suit against Kokkinos, who is a resident of California, as reasons for dismissal.
The motion also argued that Kokkinos himself did not make defamatory statements or threats toward Ouzounian and had no control over the fans who did. It also said Ouzounian did not state a claim specifically against Kokkinos.
"Unhappy with being a subject of Mr. Kokkinos’ work and the reactions of Mr. Kokkinos’ fans, the plaintiffs bring this action in hopes of quashing Mr. Kokkinos’ artistic expression and suppressing his First Amendment right of free speech," the motion reads. "However, all of their purported causes of action fail to state a claim. Regardless of whether Mr. Kokkinos’ critical comments and opinions are distasteful or humorous, plaintiffs do not plead claims against Mr. Kokkinos."
Kokkinos’ motion also claims Weber Shandwick was only named in the complaint in an attempt by the plaintiffs to get Kokkinos fired from the agency.
A separate motion to dismiss was filed by lawyers representing Dax Herrera, an online satirist known as Dick Masterson; Foundation Digital, an SEO and marketing firm cofounded by Herrera; and Greg Boser, another cofounder of Foundation Digital, last week. The motion argued that the case was filed in an inconvenient and inappropriate state court.
Their motion to dismiss says that Herrera, Boser, and Foundation Digital do not have any connections to New York, where the lawsuit was filed. The three defendants live and do business in California and Nevada, and the motion states the New York courts have no jurisdiction over them.
A Weber Shandwick spokesperson said the firm is planning to file a motion to dismiss on Wednesday.
Representatives for Herrera, Boser, Foundation Digital, and Ouzounian could not be immediately reached for comment.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants facilitated a trolling campaign against Ouzounian and his girlfriend that resulted in online harassment, including death and rape threats, and lost income for Ouzounian’s work, both his podcast and recently released book. It claims the campaign included targeted ads on Facebook and Reddit and posts from Herrera and Kokkinos encouraging their followers to harass the couple, according to court documents.
The lawsuit claims that Kokkinos and Herrera created and fueled the online harassment campaign during work hours for Weber Shandwick and Foundation Digital, respectively. The suit also alleges Weber was alerted to Kokkinos’ activities at work several times, but did not take action to stop him.
Weber and its general counsel, Joshua Kaufman, who was also named in the suit, have not formally responded to the summons filed in November. A Weber spokesperson said in November that the agency plans to "vigorously contest the serious allegations in the lawsuit" and confirmed at the time that Kokkinos continued to be employed by the firm.
This story was updated on January 8 with comment from Weber.