SN publisher awarded $39K in fees, costs and damages

By Linda Bentley | September 30, 2009

It is just this sort of harassing, frivolous litigation that statute is intended to repress

PHOENIX – On Monday, Maricopa County Superior Judge Bethany Hicks awarded Sonoran News Publisher/Editor Donald Sorchych $33,732, in attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses along with an award of $5,000, the maximum permitted by law, in statutory damages against plaintiffs The Desert Advocate, Thomas and Karen Seemeyer and their attorney James M. Laganke, while dismissing all claims, in their entirety, with prejudice.

The court’s final judgment noted the Seemeyers’ entire case was based on their defamation claim, despite the fact they and their counsel knew the claim lacked merit because all but one of the 14 statements giving rise to their claim were time-barred.

The one statement that was not time-barred wasn’t actionable because it consisted of a true statement by virtue of, among other things, facts readily accessible from the public record and the Seemyers’ and Laganke’s own personal knowledge.

Attorneys Dan Barr and Craig Morgan of Perkins Coie Brown & Bain P.A., representing Sorchych, pointed out plaintiffs and their counsel bore the burden of proof before filing the lawsuit, were aware of the terminal deficiencies inherent in their claims, insisted on pursuing their claims despite being given ample opportunity to cease doing so, and then failed to bother responding to Sorchych’s motion for summary judgment.

It was clear to the court that the Seemeyers and Laganke intended to harass Sorchych with their groundless, unjustified lawsuit.

Hicks wrote, “[I]t is just this sort of harassing, frivolous litigation that A.R.S. § 12-349 is intended to repress,” and, cited Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. v. Dep’t of Corrections: “[W]e are convinced that the legislature intended to further reduce frivolous litigation by increasing the threat of fee sanctions.”