By Sam Levin
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LeMieux ticks off several characteristics of SLAPP suits: They're filed to financially cripple defendants, who fork out dough for lawyers, and they're used to embarrass and burden defendants in the discovery process. They're a warning to everyone else: Wade into the fracas and you'll get filleted -- and that includes journalists.
"I had a discussion with one of the reporters -- I can't recall if it was from the Post-Dispatch's West Post or the Suburban Journals, but it was a new reporter and she expressed some hesitation in doing this story because other reporters had been called as witnesses in various litigation and she was concerned about being dragged into a lawsuit," LeMieux says.
"That is the silliest thing I've heard," Pass says. "Journalists come to our meetings all the time."
Alan Mandel thinks the other side is the real problem: "The Post, from what I understand, the reporters are sick of them. They're not sick of us, but they're sick of them." He adds, "I'll be curious to know how frequent the communications are that Ms. Bryant e-mails you between now and the time you write this story."
He's already trying to find out what the Suburban Journals and its reporter Jennifer Pope had to say to Bryant, the councilwoman. In a discovery request to Bryant, he asked for "copies of all correspondence including but not limited to e-mail communications, letters and memos from January 1, 2001, to present date, sent or received by Laura Bryant to or from the Suburban Journals or Jennifer Pope."
Alan Mandel explains: "Ms. Bryant cc's everything to the Suburban Journals. The reporter for the Suburban Journals had her picture on her computer monitor. I believe there is a personal relationship there."
Pope won't comment.
Alan Mandel's also interested in how Bryant got her job, so he subpoenaed her entire personnel file from her private employer. He admits that Bryant's day job "has nothing to do with" the case. But while he was looking for a motive, he says, it was brought to his attention that Bryant "had a considerable period of unemployment." And he believes that a high-ranking official with her employer -- a resident of Creve Coeur who had sued the city before -- had a hand in her getting the job.
"The reason for trying to get those records was to see whether the individual had a hand in the application process. I could care less about her work performance, whether she's on time, what she makes," Mandel says.
But the actual language of the subpoena requests "the entire personnel file of Laura Bryant, including but not limited to references, referrals and applications."
Moreover, the personnel file was supposed to be brought to a deposition on October 1 that Bryant's attorney didn't know anything about. Alan Mandel signed and sent a letter to the employer's litigation coordinator saying it would be OK to skip the deposition and just send a certified copy of the personnel file. Bryant's attorney didn't get a copy of that letter, and neither the subpoena nor a notice of deposition was filed with the court.
Bryant's attorney, James Cantalin, found out about the request for her records from her employer. He asked the court to quash the subpoena, alleging that the "plaintiff's attorney improperly and in direct violation" of a professional rule of conduct notified the coordinator that she could send the documents and skip the deposition.
Cantalin alleged: "That, it is professional misconduct for requesting attorney to review or otherwise use privileged [documents] that a provider mails contrary to a subpoena requiring production of documents at deposition."
Alan Mandel says he didn't violate the ethical rules. He notes that for twelve years he served on the Missouri Bar Association's disciplinary committee, and he's got a paperweight to prove it.
"It should not have been phrased that way," Mandel says, referring to Cantalin's motion. "I received an apology."
Cantalin denies apologizing.
Alan Mandel also places the blame for the way the subpoena was handled on a colleague:
"One of the young associates here, his wife had a baby and the baby didn't do well initially, and he did that, OK? It was not the way I would have done it, OK? And, frankly, had the records arrived here under those circumstances, I wouldn't have opened them."
The judge invalidated the subpoena and soon thereafter sent the case to a mediator. But all of the defendants have opted out.
"How the hell am I supposed to mediate my constitutional rights?" O'Connor says.
Alan Mandel sits in his spacious downtown office near the Civil Courts Building. Resting on a window ledge behind his desk and chair is a statue of a rearing king cobra, hood flared, ready to strike. A secretary walks in and hands the lawyer a settlement check to endorse.
He says people in Creve Coeur support his wife and Judy Pass, not the dissidents.
"There are probably only about half a dozen people in the whole city involved in this. They have no constituents," he says.
Asked what he thinks is at the root of the criticism leveled against Pass, Mandel says, "We've been looking into motives. How much of this is caused by a power vacuum, I don't know."
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