Spider House Sexual Misconduct Saga Goes to Court
Judge hears motion to dismiss co-owner's defamation suit
By Sarah Marloff,
2:02PM, Fri. Feb. 22, 2019
From the ballroom to the courtroom: On Thursday, Feb. 21, Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy heard Jeremy Rogers’ motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit brought against him by his former boss John Dorgan, co-owner of the Spider House Café and Ballroom.
Though Mauzy has 30 days to rule, it seems Dorgan has already lost some ground. His suit, filed in October 2018, accuses both Rogers and Dorgan’s business partner Conrad Bejarano of libel and slander in response to allegations made in an October 2017 Facebook post by Rogers and his wife Tiffany Paciga of a joint “open letter” accusing Dorgan of attempting to “sexually assault” Paciga in February 2014. Bejarano, who has filed a separate motion to dismiss, was named in the suit for his subsequent response to the open letter, in which he allegedly banned Dorgan from the Spider House property and single-handedly made him a silent partner in the business. (See our December cover story for more.)
Midway through the two-hour hearing, Dorgan’s attorney Richard Alexander withdrew his client’s slander claims for lack of evidence. “This part is accurate,” said Alexander when pressed by Mauzy if that section of the suit had been dropped. “We do not have elements of slander in our case.” (“Libel” refers specifically to published material, such as the Facebook posts in this case.)
Rogers’ motion to dismiss relies on the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which protects those who exercise their First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech, regarding “a matter of public concern … defined expansively … to include an issue related to (a) health or safety; (b) environmental, economic, or community well-being,” in the language of the filing. Neema Amini, Rogers’ attorney – funded in part by a GoFundMe campaign started by Rogers and Paciga last November – insists the couple’s post, which they say was inspired by the #MeToo Movement, was a matter of public concern, and therefore cannot be libel.
Amini argued that Dorgan’s case against Rogers (Paciga is not named in the suit; neither was she present at the hearing) represents “exactly” the type of situation the TCPA was created to address. Amini, who on Rogers’ behalf has asked the court to not only dismiss the suit but also penalize Dorgan with financial sanctions, ventured in his filing that Dorgan has a habit of filing civil suits to “conceal his history of egregious and unacceptable behavior.” As evidence, Amini presented another defamation suit, against Dorgan’s ex-girlfriend for filing domestic violence charges. (Amini noted Dorgan was no-billed by the grand jury in that case, “and then turned around and sued her.”)
Dorgan’s attorney Alexander argued Rogers and Paciga’s true motive was to shut Spider House down, referencing the October 2017 post, in which Rogers wrote that Spider House’s “name being soiled and their customer base not trusting them is reward enough for us. We want their doors closed by the people... not by the law.” Alexander also claimed an “absence of evidence to prove an alleged sexual assault occurred,” though Amini presented affidavits from Rogers, Paciga, and Rogers’ former manager Eva Mueller, and an email sent to Dorgan shortly after the alleged 2014 incident by former Spider House general manager Jeremy Durnford.
In response to Amini’s sanctions request, Alexander noted that Dorgan is currently living in his hometown of El Paso with family, and that with Spider House currently “operating in the red,” Dorgan may “pursue bankruptcy” in the future. “I have no indication he’s considering filing any more lawsuits.”