Attorneys for the accuser, Melanie Kohler, had urged Judge Helen Gillmor to throw out the case, arguing that it was intended to discourage other women from coming forward. They also argued that the four-page lawsuit was not sufficiently detailed to sustain a claim for defamation. Gillmor found that the claim was sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss.
“This case is going to come down to whether what she said was true, and we’re going to have to try the case to determine that,” Eric Seitz, an attorney for Ratner, said.
Kohler’s side did score a victory, however, when Gillmor held that the case would be governed by the California anti-SLAPP statute, which protects free speech rights and makes it more difficult to pursue defamation claims in California. Ratner’s attorneys had argued that the case should be governed by Hawaii’s anti-SLAPP law, which applies solely to speech involving government actions. Kohler lives in Hawaii, but alleges that Ratner raped her a dozen years ago while she was a resident of California.
“The California anti-SLAPP statute is the most powerful statute of any statute in all 50 states to protect the free speech rights of citizens,” said attorney Robbie Kaplan, who represents Kohler. “We are quite confident it will serve that function here by protecting Ms. Kohler’s free speech rights to speak her truth about what Mr. Ratner did to her.”
On. Oct. 20, Kohler wrote a Facebook post in which she said that Ratner had “preyed on me as a drunk girl who was alone at a club,” and that he had “forced himself upon me after I said no and no and no again.” She deleted the post within two hours, after receiving a call from Ratner’s attorney, Martin Singer.
Ratner sued on Nov. 1, the same day the L.A. Times reported that six other women had accused Ratner of sexual harassment or misconduct. At the time, Kohler’s allegation had not been publicly reported. In the suit, Ratner’s attorneys called Kohler’s allegation “entirely false,” and alleged that he had suffered reputational harm because of her claim.
In pleadings in Hawaii, Ratner’s attorneys allege that Kohler “changed her rape story multiple times since she initially published it.”
“We are pleased that the Court denied Melanie Kohler’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and validated the sufficiency of Mr. Ratner’s defamation claim against her,” Andrew Brettler, another attorney for Ratner, said in a statement. “We look forward to litigating this case on the merits. Unlike Ms. Kohler and her attorneys, we do not intend to try this case in the media. So it is clear, this lawsuit was never about silencing women, but rather about holding Ms. Kohler responsible for the false and defamatory statements she made about Mr. Ratner.”
The parties will next proceed to a hearing on a motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute, at which Ratner’s side will have to show a probability of prevailing on the claim.
“The ruling on the anti-SLAPP statute is a much broader ruling than the ruling on the motion to dismiss,” Kaplan said.