By Nate Raymond
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
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
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
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.
The case is Okoli v. Paul Hastings, New York State Supreme
For Okoli: Kenechukwu Okoli, Law Offices of K.C. Okoli.
For Paul Hastings: Carla Walworth, Paul Hastings.
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