Kapow! Robin's lawyer lands it right in the kisser In today's episode, "Robin" comes to the O.C.
FRANK MICKADEIT Register columnist firstname.lastname@example.org
Holy miscarriage of justice, Batman!
So Burt Ward would have likely cried if what happened to him in Orange County Superior Court on Friday had happened to Robin, the tights-wearing superhero Ward once played on TV.
The morning's events began with me sitting in the near-empty fourth-floor hallway of the Santa Ana courthouse waiting for Ward to show up for a hearing in which he was trying to get a judge to shut down three Web sites that are critical of his Great Dane-rescue operation out in Norco. About 9:30, two figures came off the elevator and started walking down the hall toward me. Neither, I decided, would look particularly good in tights, but, sure enough, one of them was Ward, who was wearing a flowery Tommy Bahama-style shirt and casual slacks.
Ward seemed friendly enough, but his attorney, Sanford Passman, leveled me with a one-two punch worthy of any caped crusader: The words "fair and balanced."
Thanks to Bill O'Reilly, the first words out of the mouth of any aggrieved source these days are "fair and balanced" - as if a real reporter would want to hold himself to that muttering bully's interpretation of those standards. Then Passman trotted out the "reporters-trying-to-sell-newspapers" canard, which I countered with the equally cliché and intellectually dishonest "lawyers-just-trying-to-run-up-clients'-bills" canard, and we were at impasse.
I heard out Passman's complaints about the last column I wrote about his client, which he says came off as me taking the side of Orange County resident Barbara Laird, who is being sued for defamation by Ward. Passman says I made it look like the "big guy" - Ward - was picking on the "little guy" - Laird. Noted. While I don't think I'd change a word I wrote, I'll stipulate that things are never that pat.
During this exchange, Ward sat there kind of looking down and then away, as if embarrassed and wishing he were anywhere else, like being lowered into a vat of boiling oil by Penguin. I mean, come on. Had Robin played it that way when Batman was in trouble, Burgess Meredith would ruling Gotham right now.
When Passman was in talking to the judge, I had a nice chat with Ward and showed him photos of my terriers, Clancy and Angie, a dynamic duo in their own right. Ward doesn't want to go on the record and disclose any thoughts he has about his case - for reasons he doesn't want me to disclose. But I don't think he'd mind me saying that my first impression is that he seems like a nice guy who really is all about trying to save dogs. And not in the smarmy, Ron-Lais-style nice-guy way, but in a genuine way that exudes compassion for his animals.
Now, is there an overzealous control-freak inside him that emerges when he's trying to protect the dogs he adopts out? We'll find out soon enough, as this case goes forward early next year.
Anyway, the issue before Judge Dennis Choateon Friday was whether to grant Ward's request that one of Laird's co-defendants in the case, an Oregon man named Marc Sayer, immediately shut down three Web sites he operates.
Laird and Sayer became allies of sorts when Laird ran afoul of Ward earlier this year. She had adopted a Great Dane from Ward's Gentle Giants rescue operation, then switched away from the dog food Ward recommended because she was trying to cure a diarrhea problem. (Her dog's, not hers.) Ward threatened to take back the dog, which started a flurry of Internet chatter on various dog-related Web sites, including some run by Sayer.
Ward has sued Laird, Sayer and a third person for defamation. While the overarching suit won't be heard until at least January, in the interim Ward is trying to get three Web sites Sayer runs shut down. Spinning confusion like Riddler, Sayer has taken the address of Ward's real Web site, www.gentlegiantsrescue.com and created Web sites highly critical of Ward at www.gentlegiantsrescue.org, .net and .info.
Ward testified the bad publicity has caused adoptions to drop from an average of 20 a week to between five and 10 a week. At $700 an adoption, that's a minimum $7,000-a-week loss.
Passman said he wasn't trying to curtail Sayer's free-speech rights, that he could disseminate the information in other ways, but he wanted Choate to stop him from using the Gentle Giants-related Web addresses. With Commissioner Gordon-like wisdom, Choate denied the request, ruling that because Ward's loss could be quantified and that were he to win at trial he could be compensated, the Web sites do not do irreparable harm that merit restraining speech.
So Ward lost a round, and it doesn't look good. But in the old days, just when things looked bleakest, he always managed to get out of the toughest of jams without even getting a run in his tights. So stay tuned.