Former Dragon Ball voice actor Vic Mignogna’s legal case has been dismissed in full! What does this mean for Vic and the Defendants?!
How did State District Judge Chupp come to his conclusion? What will Plaintiff Vic Mignogna and the Defendant’s Monica Rial, Ron Toye, Jamie Marchi, and their employer FUNimation do next?
As a reminder, Vic Mignogna originally sued these Defendants for defamation, conspiracy, and tortious interference. Vic argued these people conspired to get him fired from FUNimation and other voice acting employers, labeled him a sexual assaulter, and tried to have him banned from anime conventions in order to hurt him financially.
In response, the Defendants filed a counter suit in order to dismiss these claims called a TCPA (Texas Citizens Participation Act), which is an Anti-SLAPP motion that claims the Defendants were exercising their right to free speech.
Since my last post in July there has been a lot of mudslinging, including drudging up an old case of domestic assault against one of the Defendants, DOXXING of people’s personal information when they support the Defendants (such as Kiwi Farm’s DOXX of Twitter user MarzGurl), accusations that FUNimation staff traded sexual favors for voice acting roles, and the FUNimation audio leak of profane voice acting, which was used to smear the company and its freelance actors.
To explain the latest news we will explore the recent court hearings, potential future actions by Vic’s lawyer, and because it’s in season… football!
Perhaps unaware of the heated passions in the anime community surrounding this case, on September 6, 2019, Judge Chupp dismissed 12 of Vic Mignogna’s 17 claims against the Defendants.
According to the Dallas News opinion journalist who attended the hearing, Sharon Grigsby, this first round of dismissals by Chupp occurred after Vic’s attorney, Ty Beard, failed to provide the “clear and specific evidence” that was required to support Vic’s claims both in and out of the courtroom. He also failed to answer the judge’s questions and made specious arguments against the Defendants that were based on conjecture and inference.
Just prior to the hearing, Ty had also been found by the Defense to have performed defective notarization. It was then spread on social media by other lawyers that he had allegedly forged signatures on legal affidavits, including Vic Mignogna’s signature and the signature of Christopher Slatosch, the founder of the Dragon Ball-centric Kameha Con, to which Vic was a controversial guest. Slatosch submitted an affidavit in support of Vic’s case that was then withdrawn by Ty in an odd reversal, alongside voice actor Chuck Huber who chose to speak out in favor of Vic and made claims against their mutual colleagues Chris Sabat, Sean Schemmel, and FUNimation staff.
When this defective notarization was brought to light, many people expected it to be big news. On September 6 I asked Monica Rial and Ron Toye’s lawyer, J. Sean Lemoine by email, “Could Ty be reprimanded by the judge for forging those signatures? Perhaps disbarred?” Sean responded, “He could. It’s an ethical violation, but I’m not pushing it.” And in the hearing, Judge Chupp acknowledged it and moved on.
The first day in court was supposed to be an introduction from both sides, but Chupp used the opportunity to outright dismiss the claims after no “clear and specific evidence” had been provided prior to the hearing. Chupp asked Ty for the evidence, Ty could not provide the evidence, so Chupp dismissed the claims. It was almost that simple.
The 5 remaining claims at the end of the day were those of defamation against FUNimation, and defamation and conspiracy against Monica Rial and Ron Toye.
But that’s when things got dangerous.
As I reported on my Twitter and Facebook accounts on September 8, following Judge Chupp’s decision to dismiss 12 of the 17 claims, a vocal minority of Vic’s supporters threatened Chupp on his long-dormant Facebook page.
Vic’s supporters accused Chupp of being lazy, inept, corrupt, and of being bribed by FUNimation. One said to Chupp, “Your corruption is fleeting and your time is up… We have right to use force to subdue these tyrants.” In other words, Judge Chupp’s judgment against Vic was a justifiable reason for why he should be attacked or even murdered.
In response, some #KickVic supporters apologized to Judge Chupp for these comments and made fun of the #IStandWithVic supporters, with an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality.
Chupp’s Facebook page has since been deactivated. Its final post was from 2010, and it’s this post which Vic’s supporters commented on with their attacks. It’s as if they intended to change Chupp’s judgment, both retroactively and in the future for the remaining 5 claims, via fear and harassment.
User GoLDReaVeR on Twitter said, “Justice only leaves the barrel of a gun. … Of course, if that court case is denied, then guns are the next best thing. … It’s only natural that the citizens take care of themselves, it would be a justified kill, and the person doing it can even get annulled for the act of killing and found not guilty for murder.”
He continued, “Don’t worry, maybe we were outsmarted, but I’ve yet to see anyone outsmart bullet. … Shooting the defendants is endgame. Chupp’s becoming a clear example as to why “God’s judgment” should be reintroduced. … I reckon a graveyard will be the defendants new home very soon.”
As if that weren’t odd enough, prior to the judgment, many of Vic’s supporters felt Chupp would judge in favor of Vic. This is because Chupp, like Vic, is a white male Christian with a conservative worldview who lives in a conservative district.
But after the ruling, they attacked Chupp and claimed he was biased against all of these things. In fact, he was a secret Social Justice Warrior (#SJW) who hated powerful and attractive white men, and only sided with the women because of their gender.
Chupp also received an email direct to his Tarrant County courtroom staff.
It said, “I just wanted to let you know that Judge Chupp is a braindead moron and I sincerely hope someone falsely accuses him of rape. You are the cause of school shootings, you are the cause of suicides, you are the cause of injustice and hate and violence. Judge Chupp just let a group of open criminals go free, shame on your kangaroo court. When people start uprising I hope your court is the first thing targeted.”
These threats and acts of harassment were reported by concerned citizens to the FBI, local Dallas law authorities, and local press. The threats were then brought to the attention of Judge Chupp by law authorities.
In response, Chupp took a step back from making a judgment on the remaining claims and ordered the two attorneys for both sides to enter into mediation any time prior to October 3.
On September 17 Judge Chupp handed copies of the threats of violence made against him to the lawyers, as provided by the local Sheriff’s Department, and Chupp then warned them of the potential danger surrounding this case.
Chupp said, “This isn’t a TV show. This is real-life stuff. This isn’t an anime cartoon or something like that. And I don’t know if people can distinguish between the two.”
He told the lawyers:
“Y’all may owe a duty to this community, since y’all’s clients are a part of it, to try to get this case worked out.”
He then said, “I think this case deals with things other than legal issues, obviously, because people are invested in it, for some reason.”
He added, “Before I rule on the rest of it, I’d rather you try to get this worked out. I think y’all have the opportunity to heal the community by doing something that y’all can all agree on, as opposed to having me do something, and then y’all having to appeal it, and go through all that process, and it just comes back here again. I mean, this could go on years.”
He finished with:
“I’d rather … see the community of anime get healed and move on….”
With a warning to the lawyers: “Just watch your back.”
Chupp explicitly states here that these lawyers ‘owe a duty’ to the anime and Dragon Ball community. Chupp’s statements on the matter suggest he feels the way this legal case has been handled in the media may in-part be responsible for the behaviors of the people making these threats against him.
The way this case has exploded in the news and been manipulated by YouTubers and other social media personalities for their own monetary gain and increased follower count while stoking the fires of hatred, had reached the point where a judge’s life was threatened.
In addition, Chupp expressed concern that some anime fans can’t tell the difference between the fantasy they see in cartoons and the reality of the people who make them. To infer from Chupp’s statement, perhaps these fans feel Chupp making judgments against the voice actors is the same as making a judgment against the characters they play on TV. Since they are attached to these characters on an emotional level, they lash out against the judge as if he were attacking these characters.
The very idea that a judge has to warn a team of legal experts to watch their backs in case an angry anime fan tries to assassinate them is bonkers. Is this what we’ve come to?
It brings to mind the definition of fanatic: “a person exhibiting excessive enthusiasm and intense uncritical devotion toward some controversial matter (as in religion or politics).” Fanatic is where the shorthand ‘fan’ comes from, via the Latin fanum (“sanctuary,” or “temple”). As in, religious zealots.
I’ve written books about huge Dragon Ball fans, and I think they can represent the best of the fandom, even if their love of the series may be considered excessive by others. I never imagined a fan would reach the level of fanaticism where they threaten violence just because they, themselves, feel threatened by something that is out of their control. And yet we are now forced to deal with this reality, just as we are forced to in other areas of our socio-political spectrum.
Putting psychoanalysis aside, these few people threatened an elected judge and these threats caused Chupp to change the way he would have otherwise approached the case. As a result, Chupp felt mediation was a wise solution to this problem and a way to calm the anime community down.
However, the mediation failed to produce results.
Left with no alternative, Chupp made his final ruling this Friday, October 5.
Dismissed with Prejudice
Friday’s court filing provided by Chupp details his logical analysis of how each step of the process of this hearing has led to this final result.
For example, how the Defendant’s filed a TCPA counter motion to dismiss Vic’s claims, how Chupp perceived Vic as a Public Figure, how the voice actors were independent contractors and not FUNimation’s employees or spokespeople, and how Vic’s lawyer failed to provide what the judge felt was substantial evidence to support Vic’s claims.
At the end of the court’s filing, it reads:
“The Court GRANTS the TCPA Motions. Plaintiff Victor Mignogna’s claims against Defendants Funimation, Marchi, Rial, and Toye are thus DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.”
The term “with prejudice” means that all 17 claims made by Vic Mignogna have been dismissed permanently and the case cannot be brought back to Chupp’s trial court, receive further amendments, or be refiled in another court. The Defendant’s cannot be sued a second time for the same charges.
“With prejudice” does not mean that ‘the judge is biased‘ against Vic Mignogna. A TCPA dismissal is required by law to be done with prejudice.
The filing then states the Defendant’s have 30 days to submit evidence of their “attorneys’ fees, costs, and other expenses incurred in defending the action, and an appropriate sanction….” Once this number is tallied up, Vic Mignogna will be responsible for paying it.
So not only does Vic have to cover the Defendant’s expenses, but he is also hit with a sanction.
Opinions vary on how much Vic will be required to pay in total. Estimates made by lawyers on Twitter range from $250,000 to $750,000.
Legal War Chest and Nick Rekieta
As you may recall, YouTube lawyer Nick Rekieta has been one of Vic’s most outspoken supporters on social media. He has amassed a large following by holding livestreams about the case alongside Vic’s lawyer, Ty Beard.
One of Nick’s first acts was to create a GoFundMe campaign called Vic Kicks Back. Nick states in the description that it was created in order to pay for Vic’s legal expenses. To date, the GoFundMe has received $251,511.
I spoke with Nick on Friday evening about the use of this money following Chupp’s latest judgment. We spoke via Facebook Messenger, because as it happens, Nick’s Twitter account was suspended on Thursday. When asked why, Nick said, “My Twitter was likely suspended because Twitter has established an abusable reporting system, and I am appealing the suspension.”
For months Nick has repeatedly expressed rhetoric to his followers that Vic’s case was going to be an easy win, and that the Defendants were going to regret their actions, and that they should be ashamed with themselves for besmirching a good man’s name.
But now in regards to Chupp’s judgment Nick has a matter-of-fact and calm opinion about it. “I think the decision was the most likely final outcome following the hearing.” He added, “The written decision leaves open the door for appeal on several issues, and is just a step in complex litigation.”
Regarding the large amount of money in this account and when it will be given to Vic or to Ty, Nick said, “The money is held in BHBH’s IOLTA account. These accounts hold client funds in trust and the firm has a duty to handle those funds in a manner that is between the attorney and the client. So I can’t answer those questions with specificity. I will keep the fund open for the foreseeable future. I don’t receive any money from the fund and I don’t have access to a single penny from it, and I never have.”
“BHBH” is shorthand for Beard Harris Bullock Hughes, the lawfirm of which Ty Beard is a founding and titular member. So the money is being held by Vic’s lawyer.
An IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts) account is a means established by the Supreme Court of Texas as “a mechanism for funding legal aid for low-income Texans by collecting interest on client trust accounts.” These accounts are often held in banks.
Regarding the threats made against Chupp, Nick said, “Those were not threats under any legal definition and the person who made them has openly stated that he/she is on neither side.”
Asked if he was concerned future threats may arise after this full dismissal, Nick said, “As I have stated time and time again, no one should harass anyone. I have also seen no more evidence of the Defendants being harassed than anyone else, including the Plaintiff and people who support him.”
Here Nick takes a clear stance against such attacks. In the past he and Ty Beard have antagonized the Defendants and their lawyers through their rhetoric. They have also suggested or ‘joked’ that Vic’s supporters should harass the Defendants and anyone who supports them.
For example, here is a July 9, 2019 video from Nick titled “J Sean Lemoine Misrepresents Facts to the Court – or Maybe He’s Just Dumb.” At the 50:45 mark Nick describes with anger why he created the GoFundMe account:
“I just don’t like any of the Defendants and I think they’re terrible people, and I want to see them ground into dust. Because when you lie to take away a man’s livelihood, you deserve to be ground into dust! You are scum and you know it!” He then calls Monica Rial a “harpy,” Jamie Marchi a “hag,” and Ron Toye a “little cuck-bag.”
Ty Beard asked fans to harass attorneys on Twitter with opposing viewpoints. When later asked by Nick if he was joking, Ty said no, “I’m asking them for help! Make these people miserable, please. I would consider it a personal favor.”
Whether Vic’s lawyer intended this as a joke or not, fans obliged his request. Lawyers such as Greg Doucette had their personal information made public and were subjected to months of continued harassment, including social media suspensions.
And it’s worth pointing out that when Vic Mignogna was questioned about this legal war chest during the deposition by the Defendant’s lawyer, J. Sean Lemoine, Vic stated that he had no prior relationship with Nick Rekieta and that the GoFundMe campaign was created without his prior approval.
Given that the funding campaign is still ongoing and that supporters are donating to the campaign as you read this, it’s unclear when this money will be delivered to Vic.
One could argue that since the case is now finished, the fund should be closed and the money delivered to the Defendant’s in order to pay their legal expenses and the court-ordered sanction.
However, some diehard Vic supporters feel the battle has just begun.
Appeals and Football
Despite the absolute loss in court, Ty Beard summed up his thoughts on Twitter with a simple football analogy:
This is the latest in a line of football analogies that Beard has used throughout this lawsuit.
After September 6, when 12 of the 17 claims were dismissed, Beard Tweeted, “No one should be spiking the football just yet. Just sayin’.”
Then on September 17, when mediation was ordered, Beard wrote, “And the second quarter begins.”
Apparently now, when his metaphorical team is down 0—17 and the referees have called the game, Beard thinks it’s halftime, and the real battle will be won in the second half.
Users mocked Beard for this claim that ‘his team’ still has a chance. They said the game is over, the referees and opposing team have gone home, and Ty’s the only one standing on the field with the stadium lights turned off. This included many of Vic’s supporters who were upset by Ty’s performance in court (the analogous football field).
Yet in contrast, there remain people who insist that Vic is an innocent man, the judge is lazy, corrupt, and inept, and it doesn’t matter what the judge says because Vic will appeal it and then Ty will score a hundred points in the second half by himself, like a miraculous Tom Brady in a Super Bowl.
Later in the October 4 evening, at midnight EST, Nick Rekieta had Ty Beard on his livestream to discuss the results of the case.
Ty was candid in saying, “They’re mad at me, because it’s my fault. … The buck stops here. I’ve never blamed someone else for a failure, and right now it looks like a failure.” He added, “But I wouldn’t be dancing in the end zone just yet if I were the other side.”
Regarding an appeal? Ty said, “I’d ask the question to anybody, if you were hiring a lawyer, would you hire the one who screams the battle is over at the first sign of the battle being over? I would want the lawyer who does not. That’s just me.”
Nick seconded, “I would want the lawyer who knows well enough that these are steps on a path, and it doesn’t just end when it goes your way or doesn’t.”
Regarding specific details of their approach for an appeal, Ty said, “You’ll have to wait for the appeal brief, if there is one.”
Should Vic’s supporters attack the judge? Ty said, “Going after the judge because of this, I know people are angry, but look, in the real world judges are too busy to have grudges against people. It just didn’t go our way. I made mistakes, at least in my mind. But I’ve never seen a perfect football game either. It happens. Slagging the court? Eh. If it makes you feel better…”
Ty continued, “We elect our judges. I don’t believe we are the victim of bias in any way. I’m not sucking up to anybody. There wasn’t bias here. The judge just didn’t see it the way I would like him to see it. So we’re going to go to a tiebreaker here, hypothetically.” Again with the football analogy. Although you may not think a landslide victory is a tie that could be broken.
They went on to say that winning or losing the case isn’t what’s truly important. What matters is that Vic’s public reputation was protected, and that the #KickVic crowd’s attempt to ruin Vic’s life was a failure. The takeaway is that the appeals court will fix all these temporary problems and the judge’s mistake. If, in fact, there is an appeal, and if, in fact, there was a mistake.
When I asked Nick if Ty intends to appeal, at the request of Vic, he said, “That’s between Ty and Vic, I’m not that decision maker.”
So only one question remains:
Will Vic go for a Hail Mary touchdown pass, or will he accept his loss and move on?
And what will this mean for the Dragon Ball and anime community? Can we all move on, as Judge Chupp has asked the lawyers to help us do? Or is it back to the 50-yard line for more gridiron combat?
Courts and Public Opinions
It seems that Nick and Ty are singing a different tune after Vic’s case has been dismissed in court.
Judge Chupp ordered mediation and placed the onus of social responsibility on the lawyers, and now they’re saying the Judge isn’t to blame, the loss in court is just one of those things that happened, and people should not be mad about it.
So maybe their perspective on this issue has changed, and things will be different moving forward?
To quote Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV after he fought Ivan Drago to near-death in the ring: “If I can change, and you can change, then everybody can change!”
Of course, some people haven’t got the message. I’ve seen Vic’s supporters on social media argue that Vic is still innocent, the Defendants are evil and will burn in hell, and everything they’ve done will come back to them in the form of karmic retribution.
Meanwhile, Defendant Monica Rial is celebrating the judgement on her Twitter, “Talk about incredible timing, tomorrow is my birthday. Thank you all for your support. It has meant the world to us. You inspired us to keep fighting for what’s right. And to all of the other survivors out there, this win is yours. I hope we have helped you find your voice. ❤”
So the actual court—the one that everyone claimed was the only voice that mattered—has spoken.
Yet the court of public opinion rolls on.
Speaking of opinions:
Do you feel Vic’s case is justified and that he should appeal the judgment?
Or do you feel that justice has been served and it’s time to move on?
Perhaps there are facts and evidence Chupp overlooked?
Maybe one day we can return to simpler times, where our biggest concerns were about Goku versus Superman. Which for the record, Goku should have won!
Note that I reached out to most of the people involved in this case, including the attorneys for both sides, but I did not receive replies prior to publication except from Nick Rekieta. If they respond after publication, I will add their responses.
Instead of weave the belated responses into the article, which would require a rewrite and re-read, I am posting them here.
Added October 7, 2019
Monica Rial and Ron Toye’s lawyer, J. Sean Lemoine, responded to my questions on October 7, 2019.
Derek: How do you or your clients respond to Chupp’s judgment?
Sean: Ms. Rial and Mr. Toye are very appreciative of the time and attention the Court put into the decision.
Derek: What occurred during the mediation process? Why were the two parties not able to find a middle ground?
Sean: Mediation is confidential.
Derek: Do you feel that Chupp took the threats of violence made against him by Vic’s supporters into account in his judgment for mediation? And then again in his final judgment today?
Sean: I do not know, but we believe the Court looked at the evidence and the law to make its determination.
Derek: How much money will Vic have to pay in damages? What has the Defendant’s legal expenses accrued to? And how much is an ‘appropriate sanction’? Opinions vary on Twitter from $250 to $750K, but you would know best.
Sean: The amount in attorneys’ fees and sanctions is up to the judge, but until submission and ruling, it’s not appropriate to comment.
Derek: How do you feel about Ty’s Tweet proclaiming this is just “Halftime.” Think he will appeal? And if he does appeal, will you continue to represent your clients?
Sean: Our hope is that Mr. Mignogna will accept the Court’s determination and put this dispute to rest once and for all. That said, we believe that the Court correctly interpreted the evidence and law, and that the Fort Worth Court of Appeals will do so as well.