Attorneys for Dr. Luke on Friday (April 22) sharply criticized a New York state senator for wading into the producer’s defamation battle against Kesha, arguing the legislator’s views on the case were not only “irrelevant” but also threaten to undermine the separation of powers.
The response came days after Sen. Brad Hoylman asked to file a brief in the long-running case, arguing that the court had incorrectly interpreted New York’s new free-speech statute, which he co-wrote and sponsored. Hoylman said the court should have applied the law retroactively to Dr. Luke, which would have made it harder for the producer to win his libel lawsuit against Kesha.
In their response filing on Friday, attorneys for Dr. Luke didn’t hold back – arguing both that Hoylman was both wrong on the law and that his attempted involvement in the case was potentially improper at a constitutional level.
“Efforts by a sitting legislator to influence the judicial interpretation of a statute, after it has been enacted, are highly problematic in that they threaten to undermine fundamental separation of powers principles,” wrote Dr. Luke’s lawyers at the law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP. “No single senator has the power to legislate by fiat, and particularly not after the enactment of a law.”
In a statement to Billboard, a spokesperson for Sen. Hoylman pushed back: “As the prime Senate sponsor of the bill, Senator Hoylman’s views are centrally relevant to whether the 2020 statute’s drafters intended the statute to apply retroactively and are amply supported by the legislative history, which the court can always consider. The plaintiff’s assertion otherwise is simply ridiculous.”
Dr. Luke, whose full name is Lukasz Gottwald, filed his lawsuit against Kesha in 2014, claiming she had legally defamed him with a “false and shocking” allegation that he drugged and raped her after a 2005 party. He claimed she did so as leverage to secure a more lucrative deal.
In 2020, New York enacted its new anti-SLAPP law — a type of law created in states around the country to fight “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” The statute, sponsored and co-written by Hoylman, is designed to make it harder for rich or powerful people to use libel lawsuits to silence their critics.
But in March, New York’s Appellate Division ruled that the law was not backwards-compatible with Dr. Luke’s lawsuit, which was filed six years before the statute was passed. The court said there was “insufficient evidence supporting the conclusion that the legislature intended its 2020 amendments to the anti-[SLAPP] law to apply retroactively to pending claims.”
That decision was important because the new statute would have required Dr. Luke to prove Kesha acted with “actual malice” when she allegedly accused him falsely — a rigorous standard that would make it much harder to win his case. Applying the new anti-SLAPP law would also have allowed Kesha to win repayment of her legal bills if she eventually wins the case.
With Kesha now pushing the court to reconsider that ruling, Hoylman asked earlier this week to file a so-called amicus brief in the case. He argued that the lawmakers behind the statute had, in fact, intended for it to apply retroactively: “Senator Hoylman saw a substantial need for the expanded statute to apply instantly to the numerous pending cases burdening the courts.”
But on Friday, Dr. Luke’s attorneys urged the Appellate Division to reject Hoylman’s brief. They said his “personal intent” was “entirely irrelevant to the question of the intent of the legislative body as a whole,” and that the text of statute itself had “no language indicating retroactive intent.”
The response also took aim at Hoylman’s attorneys, who hail from the elite law firm Quinn Emanuel. They noted that those same attorneys are representing Mark Geragos, Kesha’s former attorney, in a separate defamation lawsuit filed by Dr. Luke – a case that would presumably also benefit from retroactive application of the anti-SLAPP law.
“The fact that Mr. Geragos’s attorneys in that related litigation are simultaneously representing amicus herein speaks volumes regarding on whose behalf their brief was actually filed,” Dr. Luke’s lawyers wrote. “At the very least, this casts substantial doubt on the credibility of this brief, and whether the ‘interests’ of counsel are sufficiently separate from those of respondent.”
In a statement to Billboard in response to the brief, Ellyde R. Thompson — a partner at Quinn Emanuel and the lead attorney on Sen. Hoylman’s brief — refuted the suggestion of impropriety.
“Our firm has First Amendment and defamation law expertise and that is why we were selected to represent Senator Hoylman in this separate matter,” Thompson wrote. “The brief itself shows the credibility of Senator Hoylman’s position.”