Todd Witteles, the owner of the PokerFraudAlert online forums, will receive a judgment for nearly $27,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs from Mike Postle for being forced to defend himself against a defamation lawsuit filed by Postle in late 2020. The judgment comes after Witteles and his attorney, Eric Bensamochan, filed an “anti-SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion against Postle that sought to have Postle’s $330 million lawsuit declared as frivolous.
Presiding California Superior Court Judge Shama H. Mesiwala ruled in favor of Witteles, who filed his claims for legal expenses five weeks ago. CardsChat News obtained advance notice of the scheduling docket for tomorrow’s (May 12) ruling in the case, which was moved forward from an initially scheduled May 20 date and which contains a minute order detailing tomorrow’s ruling.
Judge Mesiwala will grant Witteles $26,982 in damages, though that is reduced from the $43,314.50 Witteles initially sought. Postle dropped his lawsuit against Witteles, Veronica Brill, and 10 other defendants on April 1, 2021, after failing to secure counsel willing to represent him and his claims. By voluntarily dismissing his case, Postle made himself liable for anti-SLAPP claims under California law. The minute order noted that Postle filed no opposition to Witteles’ damages claim.
First Amendment win for poker forum
In her ruling, Judge Mesiwala affirmed First Amendment-based freedom of speech while also noting Postle’s extreme claims regarding Witteles and his PFA forum. “Plaintiff’s claims,” wrote Judge Mesiwala, “arose from a few phrases contained in a single post by defendant on a website on the issue of plaintiff’s alleged cheating at online poker games. Defendant has established that [the] Internet post and the phrases therein were not only fully protected by the First Amendment, but also concerned matters of public interest, including ‘consumer information affecting a large number of persons.’”
Judge Mesiwala added, “Therefore, the allegations fall squarely within the definition of a SLAPP suit.” Mesiwala also noted that Postle dropped his claims just before a court hearing where Witteles’ anti-SLAPP motion was to be addressed. Mesiwala wrote, “The voluntary dismissal of a complaint before the hearing on an anti-SLAPP motion creates a presumption that the defendant is the prevailing party on the anti-SLAPP motion.”
Damages reduced from amount Witteles originally sought
While ruling in Witteles’ favor, Judge Mesiwala did reduce the total amount now owed by Postle in court-related costs. The judge allowed most of the billing fees requested by Witteles’ counsel Bensamochan to stand, but reduced the number of hours billed (at $695 per hour) in connection with creating the anti-SLAPP motion, calling that portion “excessive and unnecessary.”
As a result, the judge subtracted $16,332.50 from Witteles’ anti-SLAPP claim, leaving the final total at $26,982. The minute order took effect immediately, meaning Postle already owes Witteles that sum, though collecting the judgment is a separate process. The ruling in Witteles’ favor comes months after he and his attorney once offered not to pursue Postle for such damages if Postle voluntarily dropped Witteles from the case’s list of defendants; Postle declined the offer.
Witteles’ attorney, Bensamochan, offered a brief statement to CardsChat News. “Mr. Witteles is pleased that the court has found him to be the prevailing party for purposes of awarding attorney fees,” said Bensamochan. “While we are disappointed that the court cut the fee request down, it is something that falls directly within the court’s purview and discretion, and [we] will accept the reduced fee award without additional argument. Mr. Witteles intends on vigorously pursuing the monies now owed to him by Mr. Postle.”
A similar ruling is expected in the coming days on a parallel anti-SLAPP motion filed against Postle by Brill and her attorney, Marc J. Randazza. That matter is scheduled to be ruled upon on May 19.