[UPDATE 6/19/2016: The headline has been changed for accuracy. In fact, Johnson’s second lawsuit against Gawker is still not even off the ground yet. The only thing that got a continuance was the show cause order filed against Johnson by the Fresno County State Superior Court in April.]
In December last year, as his multi-million dollar lawsuit against Gawker Media worked its way through federal court in Missouri, Chuck C. Johnson drove to his local courthouse and filed a nearly identical complaint in California Superior Court.
And then he apparently forgot about it.
Acting as his own attorney (and you know what they say about that), Johnson never bothered to serve Gawker Media with the complaint, as one typically does. And in April, he failed to appear for a scheduled hearing about the complaint, which one typically should not do.
This time, he didn’t forget about it, and asked for a continuance. (Click to enlarge image at right.) He now has until December to explain his expert legal strategy to a state judge. He will also need to explain why the complaint he filed in state court says he has never filed a similar complaint anywhere else, despite that whole federal court thing that eventually ended up being dismissed.
And given that it’s been almost two years since Gawker ran the stories that ticked Johnson off, it’s unlikely the state court will agree to hear the case, as the statute of limitations has run out.
Yesterday, Johnson told his main contact at The Daily Caller, Betsy Rothstein, that he had decided to continue his lawsuit against Gawker and gotten the continuance. (Though he describes it as a continuance of the lawsuit, which is not true. The complaint he filed in Fresno Superior Court can’t proceed until he serves Gawker with papers and he explains his negligence to the court in December.)
Rothstein (or Johnson) is a little unclear about the damages sought. In her column, The Mirror, she mentions the suit is seeking $24 million in damages, but Johnson also said he had another suggestion for Gawker CEO Nick Denton to settle it.
His lawsuit wouldn’t require a large sum of money from the defendants.
“Nick Denton says that he believes in the first amendment,” Johnson told The Mirror. “I’m happy to settle the case. He won’ t have to spend a penny, but every person who has been a victim of Gawker will get to write 1000 words on Gawker.com about what they think about Gawker.”
But later, Johnson implies he has other more egregious ideas in mind
“I don’t want money from him — yet,” said Johnson. “But if he doesn’t I am going to go after him very aggressively. Basically I am trying to offer him an olive branch.”
Judging from Johnson’s haphazard legal strategy so far, Denton would be better off ignoring the whole thing.
Meanwhile, there’s been some talk that Johnson may have attempted to collude with the law firm representing Hulk Hogan, whose successful $140 million invasion of privacy lawsuit pretty much hit Gawker’s head with a folding chair and body slammed it to the mat. Ziff Davis has expressed interest in buying the now nearly bankrupt company for $100 million.
Forbes ran a story Wednesday saying Johnson had not only contacted Hogan’s lawyers, Harder Mirell & Abrams, but also other law firms in Los Angeles in an effort to nuisance-suit Gawker into oblivion.
Representatives for Johnson have also talked to other LA-area law firms, another source told FORBES, and his case was pitched to at least one of them as part of a wider litigious plan against Gawker. While it’s unclear if Harder was connected to this process, FORBES revealed in previous stories how his firm was involved in other lawsuits against Gawker where it was not a named plaintiff’s attorney. In one case, Harder worked to identify former unpaid Gawker interns to put together a class action labor lawsuit. In another, a plaintiff in Illinois said he was continuing his defamation case against Gawker on appeal and that he had the help of “Hulk Hogan’s lawyers in California.”
Harder has also sued Gawker on behalf of two other clients besides Hogan, and on Tuesday, Gawker reported that he was assisting another person in an attempt to get a story involving Donald Trump’s hair retracted from the site.
Johnson insists that he has no connection to Hogan’s lawyers or [Peter] Thiel. ”I paid for my own lawyers using my own funds,” Johnson wrote in an email to FORBES, adding that his decision to represent himself was “a deliberate part of my strategy.”
Thiel paid the Harder law firm on behalf of Hogan, presumably because Gawker Media outed him as gay. Given Johnson’s choice of lawyers, it’s doubtful Thiel gave him much more than the time of day, if that, even.
But, yesterday, Gawker‘s J.K. Trotter, who is one of the reporters named in Johnson’s libel/defamation suits, suggested that Johnson may have been privy to Thiel’s plans to attack Gawker through the Hogan lawsuit.
Gawker reported it was able to independently confirm that Johnson had pitched his lawsuit to an LA firm in March,
and that he characterized his lawsuit as part of a broader legal campaign. According to a source with knowledge of Johnson’s approach, he was apparently cryptic about what this campaign entailed.
In a separate statement to Gawker, Johnson wrote, “Forbes got a lot wrong and made up some stuff. Do you think I should sue them?” He directed further questions to his Missouri-based attorney, Jonathon Burns.
The evidence cited by Forbes does not prove that Johnson is being bankrolled by Thiel (either via Harder or some other party). But it does raise questions about whether Johnson and Thiel, or Thiel’s representatives, have communicated about the latter’s vendetta against Gawker. Indeed, according to Johnson’s former account on Twitter—which took the extraordinary step of permanently banning him from the platform in May 2015—he’s been a Thiel fanboy for a number of years:
Gawker’s story notes that Johnson once said he had dined with Thiel, columnist Bill Kristol and a professor, Mark Blitz, while still a student at Claremont-McKenna College. Asked to corroborate the story, Kristol said he didn’t remember the dinner, but said he knows Johnson, who “went crazy.”
Charles Johnson refused to elaborate on the details of the dinner in response to a request for comment from Gawker. Bill Kristol, however, denied that the dinner took place. “I’ve never had a dinner with Peter Thiel and Charles Johnson,” he told Gawker. “I don’t remember anything like that.” Referring to Johnson, he added, “He’s the one who attended Claremont as an undergraduate, right? I may have met him then. But then he went crazy. I haven’t met with him since then.” (The other two attendees, Mark Blitz and Peter Thiel, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
We anticipate a vindictive story about Bill Kristol from Johnson any day now. Or maybe he’ll just sue him for defamation. In state court.