Does a lawyer who regularly frequents strip clubs and often takes clients with him possess a reputation already so tarnished that he is proscribed
from filing a defamation lawsuit?
WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell thinks so and told a New York Court just that in papers filed Tuesday seeking the dismissal of a defamation suit against him.
Calling it “baseless and frivolous,” Sorrell has asked the New York State Supreme Court to toss out the suit brought last month by the law firm of Sabharwal & Finkel (S&F), the firm representing New Delhi Television in a separate suit against WPP and Nielsen in connection with a ratings service the two firms operate in India.
Sabharwal & Finkel alleged in the suit that they were defamed when Sorrell told a reporter for an Indian business publication that they were attempting to “extort” money in the form of a settlement on behalf of NDTV. S&F also alleged that Sorrell libeled them by telling the journal that their firm was based in Florida, which is incorrect and implies that they are violating the law by practicing there. Several other comments that Sorrell made about them were also cited in the suit.
Sorrell's motion to dismiss cited a 2006 USA Today article that described S&F partner Rohit Sabharwal as “a regular” at a popular New York City strip club known as Rick’s Caberet. The article states that Sabharwal “says he often takes clients of his small law firm with him and that such entertaining was common when he was at a large firm too.”
The article quotes Sabharwal as stating that “nobody really objects. I think it’s a lot more
civilized in the law profession. I don’t think women have a problem succeeding in law firms.” The article was published just days after a New York Times feature on the struggles
women endured to succeed at such firms.
Sorrell also cited the S&F’s ineptitude in properly serving WPP and its subsidiaries with the suits in both the New Delhi TV case and the defamation action brought against him.
“Given Sabharwal’s statement to a national newspaper in the United States that he enjoys frequenting strip clubs with clients and the woefully deficient service of process Plaintiffs made in the NDTV action, there is no basis to Plaintiff’s claim that the [alleged defamatory] statements at issue here cause them any further injury to their professional reputations,” Sorrell’s motion stated. “They have done far more damage to their own professional reputations” via their own actions, the filing stated.
Given that set of circumstances, Sorrell’s court filing asserted that the WPP chief was “libel-proof” and that the claims should be dismissed.
S&F’s existing reputation aside, Sorrell argued that the statements he made were not defamatory because in the eyes of the law they were opinions not stated as fact. He also asserted they were true in the legal sense. The extortion statement, for example, was simply a way of emphasizing S&F's efforts to settle quickly in the New Delhi case. No “reasonable reader” would conclude that Sorrell was actually accusing the firm of committing the crime of extortion.