LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A retired professional tennis player who sued an architect and the businessman's spouse, alleging that their false statements in public that he was a wife-beater caused three private clubs to cancel his membership, can move forward with his defamation suit against the pair, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Justin Gimelstob brought the lawsuit in September 2021 in Santa Monica Superior Court against Richard Landry, president and founder of the Landry Design Group, and Landry's spouse, Christopher Drugan.
After hearing arguments Tuesday, Judge Mark A. Young denied an anti- strategic litigation against public participation motion filed by the defendants, whose attorneys maintained in their court papers that the law prohibits Gimelstob's "obvious efforts at chilling and punishing the free speech rights of Landry and Drugan through the filing of the instant lawsuit."
The state's anti-SLAPP law is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
Young ruled, however, that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to infer that Landry and Drugan "harbored serious doubts as to the truth" of what they said.
The defendants admitted they were angry with Gimelstob after what they perceived as being dragged into the plaintiff's divorce case and were further upset by Gimelstob's alleged statements the day of the incident, the judge wrote.
In a sworn declaration filed Nov. 14, the 45-year-old Gimelstob says the fallout from the defendants allegedly defamatory remarks got him banned from the Brentwood Country Club -- where the alleged defamation occurred -- as well as the Jonathan Club and Beverly Hills Tennis Club.
Landry is a Canadian-born American architect. Known as the "King of the Megamansion," he has designed many residences for celebrities.
Gimelstob is president of FBR Group, which specializes in the insurance needs of wealthy clients. He has raised more than $1 million through his Justin Gimelstob Children's Fund, benefiting children with pediatric cancer, as well as other youth charities, the suit states.
In August and September, 2020, Gimelstob was involved in an attorneys' fees trial in his divorce case and he subpoenaed Landry to testify regarding a home being designed and constructed for the plaintiff's ex-wife, the suit states.
"The manner in which Landry was served with the subpoena and the substance of his ensuing trial testimony created significant resentment and hostility toward Gimelstob," according to the suit.
A few weeks after Landry testified, Gimelstob went to the Brentwood Country Club to play tennis with two friends, one a member at Brentwood, the other a professional tennis player who had just returned from playing in the U.S. Open, the suit states
Gimelstob was a frequent guest at the club for many years after retiring as a professional tennis player in 2007, the suit states. In mid- September 2020, Gimelstob was on a tennis court hitting tennis balls with one of the friends with whom he had gone to the club that day, the suit states.
Gimelstob noticed that Landry and Drugan were playing on an adjacent court and at one point a tennis ball rolled into the corner of the plaintiff's court, the suit states. When Gimelstob went to retrieve it, he saw Landry near a fence, the suit states. Gimelstob jokingly said to Landry, "Who's better, you as an architect or me at tennis?," according to the suit.
"In response, Landry and Drugan immediately became enraged, (walked) toward Gimelstob (and) started hurling insults at him, (saying), "Get out of my club, you don't belong here wife beater, you're a criminal, we don't want you in our club,"' according to the suit, which is unclear whether one or both defendants made the alleged statements.
The remarks were loud enough for the wife and two young sons of Gimelstob's friend to overhear, the suit states.
Gimelstob was stunned by the remarks, but managed to go back to his own tennis practice area and he and his friend continued to play, the suit states.
A short time later, Landry and Drugan were headed to a dinner when Drugan saw that Gimelstob and his friend were playing, walked within a few inches of the plaintiff and said, "Get out of my club, wife beater. I dare you to hit me, I dare you. I know you're on probation. Why don't you hit me like you hit your wife and son? I dare you to hit me," Gimelstob says in his court papers.
Drugan's alleged remarks were overheard by two of Gimelstob's friends, including Nicholas Monroe, a professional tennis player with whom the plaintiff has worked with and represented, according to Gimbelstob.
Landry and Drugan's alleged statements were "made with the intent to harm Gimelstob both personally and professionally" as both were aware that accusing someone of domestic violence would substantially damage that individual's personal and professional relationships, particularly given that Gimelstob is a high-profile person, the suit states.
Gimelstob pleaded no contest in 2019 to a felony battery charge for a Halloween attack on a former friend and sentenced to three years probation and 60 hours of community labor after a judge reduced the offense to a misdemeanor.