Judge Defends Google’s Anti-SLAPP Legal Bill

When Google appealed a much-reduced award of attorneys fees as too low, it couldn’t have found a more sympathetic ear than Justice Miriam Vogel. Too bad there was only one of her hearing the case.

Google wound up losing its argument 2-1 before the Second District Court of Appeal, which decided today that an L.A. Superior Court judge was within bounds when he awarded Google only $23,000 in fees and costs for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges’ efforts.

But Justice Vogel, who according to her court bio long ago practiced civil litigation and appellate law at L.A.’s Maiden, Rosenbloom, Wintroub, Vogel & Fridkis, went to great lengths to argue that Google should have gotten the $112,289 it asked for. Her 16-page dissent was longer than the majority opinion (.pdf).

The suit began in 2004, when an accountant filed a potential class action claiming that a Googling of his name turned up defamatory results. After Google got the suit thrown out as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, Judge Peter Lichtman decided Google was asking for too much money. He offered, by way of explanation, that he had experience with how much time attorneys should spend on complex matters and didn’t think this should have been “such a monumental undertaking,” given that Google’s lawyers were “old hats” at anti-SLAPP motions and experts in defamation and the Communications Decency Act, which was central to the case.

Vogel criticized Lichtman for buying the opposition’s arguments “hook, line and sinker.” Though the appellate justice praised the talent of Girardi & Keese, which represented the plaintiff in superior court, she criticized Lichtman for assuming the two firms should have spent equal time on the anti-SLAPP motion. Every penny of Quinn Emanuel’s bill was justified, she concluded, given the complexity of the suit and the possibility that it threatened to force Google to profoundly change its search systems.

 “The anti-SLAPP motion was not a cut-and-paste project,” Vogel wrote. And there was the fact that the plaintiff had hired “one of the preeminent plaintiff’s firms in town … who had to know their presence would justifiably provoke a full court press.”

Oh, and she also disagreed with Lichtman’s dismissive attitude when it came to the detailed record Google had worked up to explain how its searches actually work. While Lichtman called it “helpful,” but not worth the time spent, Vogel deemed it quite justifiable. It had helped her understand the issues, she noted. “And I know from my own experience how many lawyer hours it takes to translate an expert’s technical jargon into an explanation that can be absorbed by a judge.”

Pam Smith

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