Free Speech

Forged Court Order Used to Try to Vanish Online Magazine Article About L.A. Businessman

"Steve Farzam, chief operating officer of the Shore Hotel [in Santa Monica], ... [has] been charged with counterfeiting a Los Angeles County Superior Court seal."

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From the L.A. Daily Journal (Ilan Isaacs):

In July 2017, Atavist Magazine, a long-form journalism website, was preparing to publish a piece by David Mark Simpson about Steve Farzam. Farzam is a member of the prominent Farzam hotel family and a top executive at the luxury Shore Hotel -- a Santa Monica icon overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway.

The article was an exposé detailing Farzam's previously untold history of reckless, sometimes criminal behavior. It included law enforcement allegations that Farzam ilegally possessed and trafficked automatic weapons and impersonated FBI officers.

It also included information from Farzam's 2015 criminal case, where he was charged with 77 counts and pleaded to unauthorized computer access, impersonation of an FBI agent, and possession of an assault rifle….

In July 2017, before the article was published, Atavist received a letter from Rachael Aguirre, general counsel for the Shore Hotel, stating the forthcoming article would likely be libelous and defamatory. Aguirre also noted a court order that sealed all documents related to Farzam's 2015 criminal case and wrote, "Any information ascertained from [the 2015 case], which is published or made public, is in direct violation of that Court's June 1, 2015 Court Order sealing all documents related to Mr. Farzam's criminal matter from public view." …

Six months after the article was published, … [the Atavist's lawyer] was sent a "formal demand" from Farzam's personal attorney, Isabel A. Ashorzadeh of Ash Legal Group. Ashorzadeh demanded the Atavist article be "immediately disabled." Ashorzadeh … [wrote, among other things, that] "Ms. Aguirre's letter to you in fact did not contain a misstatement regarding the courts order to seal documents related to the conviction in Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BA425132. I would suggest you do not rely on a non-certified court transcript as you apparently have made an error. Upon personally inspecting the court's file last week, the order is absolutely clear, and your clients have violated it."

After the Atavist article was published, the order was also eventually sent to Google, with a request that Google remove the Atavist article from its indexes, so it wouldn't show up in Google searches.  And, last month, the order led to Farzam being prosecuted for forgery; the charges are pending.