A communications professional who was sued along with Los Angeles County and District Attorney George Gascón by a veteran prosecutor who alleges he has been defamed for being an outspoken critic of Gascón’s reform directives has been dropped from the case.
Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami‘s Los Angeles Superior Court suit had also alleged defamation and harassment against Maxwell Szabo, whose attorneys had previously brought an anti-SLAPP motion that was scheduled for hearing on July 17. Szabo’s lawyers argued in their court papers that Hatami is a limited-purpose public figure who has also failed to demonstrate malice or harassment in his pleadings. However, Hatami’s lawyers filed court papers on Friday with Judge Stephanie M. Bowick asking that the part of the case against Szabo be dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning the allegations cannot be revived later. No reason was given in the court papers for removing Szabo as a defendant.
When Gascón was sworn into office in December 2020, he promised to stop enforcing California’s three-strikes law, end use of the death penalty and create a review board to hold law enforcement officials more accountable. As Hatami has continued to be critical of Gascón’s changes, the alleged hostile work and retaliation toward him has continued, according to his suit filed in September 2021. Szabo, who also is an attorney, consulted for the committee to elect Gascón through the 2020 election and Gascón’s subsequent transition into office. As part of his job, Szabo explained and defended Gascón’s policy proposals and directives.
Hatami alleged that Szabo, acting as a spokesperson for Gascón’s office, defamed the plaintiff with four statements: calling Hatami a “rogue DA” on Twitter, stating on television that Hatami’s “delusional theories raise questions as to one’s fitness to practice law,” called Hatami a “liar” during a 2021 Whittier City Council meeting and referred to a photo of Hatami on television as a “portrait of fearmongering.”
Szabo’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — motion was brought under a state law intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights. Szabo’s attorneys maintain that because Hatami is at minimum a limited-purpose public figure, the part of the plaintiff’s case against their client should be dismissed on free-speech grounds.