NEW YORK, Sept 20 (Reuters) – A lawsuit over a contentious deposition last year that ended with a Paul Hastings partner being slapped in the face by his opposing counsel has been dismissed.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Kern ruled Wednesday that New York attorney Kenechukwu Okoli could not pursue slander and civil assault claims against Paul Hastings and the partner he slapped, Allan Bloom.
Okoli had claimed in the lawsuit, filed in May, that he was provoked into slapping Bloom after Bloom allegedly wagged his finger at him and accidentally spat on him while yelling at him during a deposition in an employment discrimination lawsuit against Marsh USA, Inc.
Earlier in the disposition, Bloom called Okoli, who represented former Marsh employee Gisela Brooks, „uncivilized, ignorant and incompetent,“ the complaint said.
Paul Hastings in court papers said Bloom’s statements were made in the „heat-of-the-moment“ following provocation by Okoli, who repeatedly told Bloom to „keep his mouth shut.“
Following the slap, Kings County Justice Nancy Saitta, who presides over the Marsh case, ordered all future depositions to take place at Paul Hastings‘ offices and be videotaped at Okoli’s expense. An appeal of that order is pending.
Okoli sued Paul Hastings and Bloom in Manhattan Supreme Court in May for $1.1 million.
But Kern ruled Wednesday that it was „immaterial“ whether Bloom’s statements about Okoli’s civility were slanderous, as they were said during the course of a deposition.
„As these allegedly defamatory statements were made in the course of a deposition, which is a judicial proceeding, they are cloaked with immunity, and thus, cannot be actionable,“ Kern wrote.
Kern also dismissed Okoli’s claims of assault arising out of Bloom’s alleged finger-wagging and spitting. The judge said Okoli had failed to allege conduct that placed him in „imminent apprehension of harmful contact“ and noted that even Okoli said the spitting was not on purpose.
A spokesman for Paul Hastings welcomed the ruling.
„We’re pleased with Justice Kern’s decision to dismiss the complaint, and gratified to contribute to U.S. caselaw precedent that the threat of spittle is not a cause of action,“ Allan Whitescarver said.
Okoli said Thursday he would „likely“ appeal the ruling, but declined further comment. Okoli had been representing himself, but has retained a lawyer, Nicholas Penkovsky in Riverdale, New York, who entered an appearance Tuesday.
© By Nate Raymond