A federal judge on Wednesday dealt two losses to suspended Major League Baseball pitcher Trevor Bauer in his defamation lawsuit against the woman accusing him of sexual assault, concluding that another judge never cleared the former Dodgers star of wrongdoing as his lawyers claim.
In the first substantive rulings of Bauer’s three related lawsuits, Senior U.S. District Judge James V. Selna granted a motion to strike Bauer’s claims against Lindsey Hill‘s former lawyer, Niranjan “Fred” Thiagarajah of Newport Beach. He also rejected Bauer’s motion to strike Hill’s counterclaims against him, writing that he lacks clarity from the previous state court proceeding regarding what truly happened between the two.
While Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dianna Gould-Saltman in August 2021 declined Hill’s request for a restraining order against Bauer, “it is far from ‘clear’ that she found Bauer did not batter or sexually assault Hill,” Selna said.
Selna said the judge found Hill’s restraining order petition to be “materially misleading,” but his order also includes her reason: “because it overstated the extent to which Bauer contacted Hill following their May 12 interaction.”
“Bauer lists many of Judge Gould-Saltman’s recitations of the evidence, with particular focus on the judge’s musings regarding what Hill did or did not consent to,” according to the 13-page order. “However, the Court’s reading of Judge Gould-Saltman’s findings and reasoning does not lead to a ‘clear’ decision as to an absence of abuse or the scope of consent.”
The separate, 16-page order regarding Bauer’s claims against Thiagarajah reiterates that finding, saying Gould-Saltman’s decision to deny a permanent restraining order “was premised on insufficient evidence of consent and the threat of future harm, not on doubts as to whether Bauer inflicted the ‘terrible’ injuries on Hill.”
“Judge Gould-Saltman herself stated that Hill’s injuries were ‘terrible,”” Selna wrote.
The two orders finalized rulings the judge first issued as tentative decisions before hearing oral argument in his Santa Ana courtroom, first on Nov. 7 over Thiagarajah’s motion to strike Bauer’s claims, then on Monday over Bauer’s motion to strike Hill’s counterclaims. Hill attended each hearing.
A San Diego resident and baseball fan, Hill met Bauer through Instagram in early 2021, and they had sex in his home in Pasadena, California, on April 21, 2021, engaging in violent acts such as choking and hitting, then meeting again for more sex on May 16, 2021. Bauer says Hill consented to everything, but Hill says the rough sex she requested escalated into unexpected violence that caused her to lose consciousness and wake to Bauer “having forceful and violent anal sex with her.”
“Hill used a ‘safe word’ the two had previously agreed upon, and Bauer stopped,” according to Selna’s order denying Bauer’s motion to strike. “Hill went to the hospital to receive treatment for the injuries she suffered as a result of this interaction.”
At the time, Bauer was a star pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a temporary restraining order Hill obtained against him drew broad attention from journalists. Judge Gould-Saltman declined to issue a more permanent restraining order, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against Bauer. Major League Baseball, however, suspended him for two seasons without pay in April.
That same month, Bauer filed the current case against Hill and Thiagarajah, accusing both of defamation and Hill also of two counts of tortious interference with contract and prospective economic advantage. Hill’s counterclaim, filed Aug. 9, accuses him of sexual battery and battery.
Bauer also is suing the sports journalism website The Athletic and journalist Molly Knight for defamation over their coverage of Hill’s accusations, with U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald in Los Angeles currently considering defense motions to dismiss and strike. Additionally, Bauer has a defamation lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against G/O Media, Inc., which owns the website Deadspin, and Deadspin Managing Editor Chris Baud for their coverage.
Selna, a 2003 George W. Bush appointee, had already issued his tentative order granting Thiagarajah’s motion to strike under a California statute aimed at protecting free speech in public issues. He cancelled oral argument, but Bauer’s lawyers persuaded him to change his mind after an Oct. 5 filing that alerted him to a video they’d recently obtained from the Pasadena Police Department.
This was taken hours after I supposedly brutally assaulted this woman, when she claims she was terrified and desperate to get out of my house and in tremendous pain.
— Trevor Bauer (トレバー・バウアー) (@BauerOutage) September 14, 2022
In it, Hill, apparently filming herself, appears to smile and smirk at the camera while panning to Bauer, who is sleeping with his eyes covered. It was taken the night of the second encounter, in which Hill alleges she suffered her most serious injuries.
Hill’s lawyers said Thiagarajah had to have known of the video when he told the Washington Post “there’s no doubt Mr. Bauer just brutalized” Hill, but Selna said in court that he would not consider the video because it was submitted far after the issue had been fully briefed.
Based on the judge’s reasoning in Wednesday’s ruling, it doesn’t appear the video would have mattered, as Selna equated Thiagarajah’s use of the word “brutalized” with Gould-Saltman’s description of Hill’s injuries as “terrible.”
All but one of Thiagarajah’s statements at issue is factual, Selna concluded, and the statement that isn’t is a clear opinion Thiagarajah offered regarding Bauer’s decision to deny Hill’s allegations in a YouTube video while invoking his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in the proceeding before Gould-Saltman: “It’s easy to deny these things occurred when you’re not going to have a chance to be cross-examined about it.”
“While it is certainly Bauer’s right to exercise his Fifth Amendment privilege, it is similarly Thiagarajah’s right to exercise his privileges under the First Amendment,” the judge wrote in a line first floated in his tentative ruling.
California law entitles Thiagarajah to collect money from Bauer to cover his attorney fees and legal costs because he prevailed in a pretrial motion from under California’s Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation, commonly called the anti-SLAPP statute. Thiagarajah’s lawyers have seven days to file an application.
(Images: Bauer image a screenshot via his YouTube; Hill image a screenshot via video submitted to U.S. District Court)
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