NEW YORK: A negligence claim against Weber Shandwick in a larger defamation case filed by comedian and satirist George Ouzounian was dismissed with prejudice last week by a New York Supreme Court judge who questioned why the agency was named in the suit.
"What actions did they take?" said Justice Charles Ramos about Weber’s role in the alleged defamation campaign. "Just because somebody used their equipment."
That question, aimed at Ouzounian attorney Kevin Landau, and the dismissal at the May 16 hearing were the results Weber’s attorneys were hoping for in the case Ouzounian filed last November. Weber’s attorneys, along with others involved in the case, made the motion for dismissal in a January hearing. The judge agreed to Weber’s motion with prejudice, which means Ouzounian can’t replead the case in the state of New York.
Ouzounian, also known as the online personality Maddox, sought $20 million in damages in a lawsuit brought against Weber, its general counsel Joshua Kaufman, fellow online personality and Weber copywriter Asterios Kokkinos, and several other defendants.
According to the suit, the defendants’ actions resulted in a trolling campaign that resulted in online harassment, including death and rape threats, and lost income for Ouzounian.
Weber was negligent, the suit alleged, because it was told several times about Kokkinos’ actions but did nothing to stop him from using agency equipment on company time to record audio used in the trolling campaign.
In last week’s hearing, Landau attempted to explain why this made Weber a responsible party. But the judge didn’t buy it and after asking a follow up question, interrupted Ouzounian’s attorney to issue the ruling, according to court documents.
"Your motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice is granted," the judge said, talking to Weber’s attorney. "The corporation and Mr. Kaufman, gone, out of this case."
The judge also dismissed the defamation claim against Kokkinos, a misappropriation and unfair competition claim against Kokkinos, and a civil rights claim against all the defendants.
The other defendants were personality Dax Herrera; Foundation Digital, an SEO and marketing firm founded by Herrera; Greg Boser and Loren Baker, cofounders of Foundation Digital; comedian Trevor Birt; online subscription platform Patreon; and Patreon creator relations lead Jordan Cope.
The judge dismissed a claim against Dax Herrera and Foundation Digital on the grounds it was brought in the wrong jurisdiction. However, Ouzounian can, and his attorneys said they would, replead the case in California. The judge also allowed Ouzounian to replead some of his claims against the defendants in New York, though not those against Weber.
There are also several sanctions motions related to the case that are still undecided. Sanctions are charges brought by attorneys on one side alleging that attorneys on the other side engaged in improper conduct. They are often used as a tactic in complex lawsuits.
Kokkinos' attorney said that although the court left a chance for Ouzounian to refile, he’s not worried given the substance of the complaints.
"The complaint was like a one legged dog," said lawyer Jordan Greenberger. "There was nothing to stand on."
Weber confirmed that Kokkinos is no longer an employee at the agency, but did not comment further on his departure. Kokkinos did not comment except to promote his web presence.
This story was updated on May 23 with comment from Greenberger and updated on May 25 with additional information.