Reality Show Wrap Up

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image via

Let me start off by thanking all of you who have been so supportive of my efforts to not be bullied into removing my post, MTV and Rape Culture.

As I said before, I was shocked when I received first a warning, and then a stern 72 hour Cease and Desist Notice from Usman Shaikh, attorney for Kenny Santucci and Evan Starkman. The former I mostly blew off, the latter sent me into action mode.

My first stop–as always–was Google. I learned about the finer points of defamation suits as well as California’s strong anti-SLAPP statute. (A SLAPP is a baseless lawsuit that a plaintiff files, not with the intention of winning, but to exhaust and/or bankrupt the defendant so that they cede to the plaintiff’s demands.) The more I researched, the more this looked like a SLAPP.

As well, I found several helpful websites. Remember the Lipstick Alley debacle? I went right to the source of that genius letter, to Mr. Paul Levy himself. Actually, I didn’t think I’d be hearing from Mr. Levy when I wrote Public Citizen, but I hoped they might take an interest in my case.

The very next morning, I received an email from Mr. Levy asking when we could chat. We spoke later that day, and although he informed me that he wouldn’t be able to represent me, he was willing to give me some informal guidance. He was very generous with his time and information. One thing he made sure to stress, was that I needed to take the threat of the lawsuit seriously. Prior, I’d thought it mostly an empty threat, and I admit that his advice was sobering.

I did a bit of soul searching. At this point I had less than 48 hours to respond or face litigation. As much as I abhorred the thought of being censored, especially about such an important topic, I must admit that I considered acquiescing.

Lawsuits are stressful and expensive, and there are never any guarantees about the outcome, even if you’re sure that you’re in the right. Plus, I’m on a deadline to finish Tether, Book 3 in The Gateway Trilogy. How much was I willing to sacrifice over one blog?

I made a decision: I would spend the next 48 hours reaching out to as many people as I could, in hopes of finding pro bono or reduced cost representation. My gut instinct told me that a simple response letter would be enough to end that matter, but I wasn’t willing to bank on it; I wanted to know I had someone in my corner. If the time lapsed and I was no closer to getting help, I’d have to make a decision about how much this principle meant to me.

I reached out to the Online Media Legal Network in hopes of getting a referral. As well, Mr. Levy had offered to reach out to attorneys in California who might be able to help me in an official capacity. Andy Sellars, a lawyer with OMLN, responded quickly and set up a time for us to talk. Once again, I was blown away by the immediacy of the response and the quality of help I received.

Between the time I’d emailed, and the next day when Mr. Sellars and I spoke, he had not only looked at the blog posts in question, and the letters I’d received, but he’d looked up the case (Tonya Cooley vs. Bunim/Murray Productions et al.) that my original blog post was about.

He also provided me with a crucial piece of evidence–the complaints against Santucci and Starkman were dismissed not, as their lawyer claimed, because they were found to be without merit, but because they argued Personal Jurisdiction. What’s that, you ask? (Don’t worry, I did too) Mr. Sellars informed me that such a defense means they argued that because neither was a resident of California, they shouldn’t have to defend themselves in California. No determination was made either way as to the merits of the complaint. A few months later, Ms. Cooley settled her lawsuit, which effectively put the matter to rest.

This information emboldened me to stand firm.

While the OMLN doesn’t represent clients themselves, they do offer a referral service, and Mr. Sellars advised me, (as did Mr. Levy) to let Mr. Shaikh know that I was in the process of acquiring counsel, which I did. At the same time, I told him I was open to reviewing any documentation he had to support the claims he made in his emails. He declined to do so.

The Personal Jurisdiction defense was of interest to Mr. Levy, as well. In fact, on August 23, he wrote a letter on my behalf, asking Mr. Shaikh if he:

“…can provide any documentation from the case that you believe Garner should be taking into consideration in assessing the soundness of your assertion that ‘the facts revealed that her claims were without merit as to Mr. Santucci and Mr. Starkman.’”

Mr. Shaikh responded, saying that he would gather the appropriate documentation. 72 hours passed with no further word. At that point, Mr. Levy wrote him again, which prompted Mr. Shaikh to call and let him know that the threat of litigation was withdrawn pending provision of the appropriate documentation.



via ktpupp

via ktpupp


I felt both vindicated and grateful. It was honestly the best outcome I could have hoped for, and more help than I expected from two very generous men. In fact, by the time the threat was withdrawn, both had found prominent attorneys interested in representing me pro bono, based on the SLAPP nature of the threat. At this time it seems such a defense will be unnecessary, but I am grateful to know it exists.

In closing, I’d like to again thank Paul Levy and Andy Sellars, as well as all of you who have shown me support, both publicly and privately on this issue. I’m thrilled to have “won” and happy to get back to doing what I do best.

If you’d like to read more about this story, here are the relevant posts, in order:

MTV and Rape Culture
Let the Toothbrushes Fall Where They May
Injustice is my Bitch
Open Letter to Kenny Santucci and Evan Starkman

As well, Mr. Levy wrote a wonderful piece about the case on his own blog, titled, Frivolous Libel Threats – the Reality Show


Soon after writing this post, Mr. Shaikh set his Twitter to “private.” Perhaps due to backlash over his deplorable tweet to Rihanna? Last week he deleted it completely. I noticed today that he has opened a new account.