A legal dispute playing out in a Los Angeles courthouse between two Canadian musicians has brought forward a central issue of the #MeToo movement: What rights do women have to speak publicly about their alleged abusers?
Claudio Palmieri, songwriter and producer of Crystal Castles, a band that started in Toronto, has launched a civil lawsuit against the group’s former lead singer, Margaret Osborn, for defamation after she accused him of sexual, physical and psychological abuse on her website in October. He has denied the allegations.
In a written statement to the Star, one of Palmieri’s lawyers, Shane Bernard, said “The truth of the matter is that my client never physically or sexually assaulted (Osborn) and categorically deny these false and malicious allegations.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Osborn, who goes by the stage name Alice Glass, was sued in November, a little more than a week after she posted her accusations online accusing Palmieri, 40, of abusing her over a period of nearly a decade, starting when she was 15.
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Osborn alleges that Palmieri, over the course of “many months,” gave her drugs, alcohol and had sex with her “in an abandoned room at an apartment he managed,” she wrote. “It wasn’t always consensual and he remained sober whenever we were together.”
Toronto Police’s sex crimes unit recently confirmed they are investigating Palmieri, also known by his stage name Ethan Kath. The Star has spoken with three women who say they filed criminal complaints against him. The Star is not identifying the women because they fear Palmieri will sue them and because they allege they are victims of sexual assault.
Palmieri and his lawyers argue via a statement of claim, filed in an L.A. Superior Court house, that Osborn’s “malicious lies to the online world” mired his career. Her comments resulted in “irreparable damages,” including lost wages and the cancellation of a North American tour worth roughly $ 300,000. Business relationships have evaporated, the claim says.
“As a result of publicizing these falsities, (Palmieri and the band) have suffered harm to their intellectual property, business, trade, and reputation,” the lawsuit says. “(Palmieri) has always maintained a positive reputation both in his personal and professional life, and is well respected in the musical community.”
Last month, Osborn, 29, responded by way of a motion to dismiss Palmieri’s complaint against her, saying that she made the statement because she was emboldened by the #MeToo movement.
Palmieri’s lawyers filed two documents in opposition to Osborn’s motion last month in support of his litigation.
Osborn’s motion says Palmieri’s lawsuit is a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” (SLAPP), because Osborn’s statement is an exercise of her First Amendment rights to free speech, recognized by the California constitution, and is a matter of public interest. Further, the motion argues, Palmieri cannot establish a probability of proving his claims because the published statement was true and made without malice.
The concern with SLAPP is that people in positions of power can silence debate through frivolous litigation, said Rob De Luca, a spokesperson for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who is not involved in this case.
“It assists courts in being able to dismiss this litigation quite quickly,” he said. “Nobody wants the hassle of a lawsuit, so rather than fighting it, most people without large resources are just going to silence their opinion,” De Luca said.
“This lawsuit is nothing more than (the) plaintiff’s attempt to chill (the) defendant’s right to participate in a social movement that has empowered women worldwide of all industries, classes and race, who have been sexually harassed or assaulted, to have a voice and to ‘stand up for what is right,’ ” Osborn’s December motion says.
In opposition to the motion, Palmieri’s lawyers say that he can likely prove the claim. Further, Osborn cannot prove that her speech, linked to a public interest matter, is protected, it says.
Anti-SLAPP laws were not “designed to give publishers, on the web or otherwise, carte blanche to destroy an individual/entities reputation by posting defamatory statements,” Palmieri’s motion says.
“In fact, (Osborn) timed her statement to coincide with the MeToo campaign, which has become a venue for a victim to claim abuse without any regard for the truth or veracity of the claims.”
Osborn’s lawyer, in defence of her initial motion, says Palmieri has failed to prove that her client’s statement, “in the wave of the #MeToo movement,” is not a matter of public interest.
“(T)he content of the opposition is replete with nonsensical and fantastical supposition that is based upon wild speculation, conjecture and most importantly, inadmissible evidence,” it says.
Palmieri formed Crystal Castles in Toronto in 2005 and invited Osborn to sing on a few tracks, and she eventually became the band’s front woman. Success of the electro-punk group lasted from 2006 to 2013, her motion says. Popularity was quick to spread in Britain. The band’s first full-length record, released in 2008, peaked at number 47 in the U.K., according to Official Charts. From that year to the present, Crystal Castles has sold 296,000 albums in the U.S. and 39,000 in Canada, said a consultant for Nielsen Entertainment, an agency that tracks consumer buying habits.
Osborn and Palmieri were romantically involved, almost concurrently with their professional relationship, according to Osborn’s motion. Palmieri writes in an opposition document that they began dating around 2007.
Osborn left the band in 2014 to pursue a solo career. She was replaced by singer Edith Frances, who continues to perform with Crystal Castles.
The same year Osborn left the band, she and Palmieri had a disagreement over finances, his lawsuit says. It alleges her anger over the quarrel spurred Osborn to hatch a “dastardly plan” to tarnish Palmieri’s reputation by attempting to persuade a blogger to publish disparaging information that he had sexually and physically abused her.
“Alice and I had a long, ongoing relationship both personal and professional. When she suddenly left Crystal Castles to handle her mental health and substance abuse issues I fully supported her. I will continue to support her quest to wellness but I can’t support extortion, false claims, and accusations put forth after the band attained new success without her. False allegations take away voices from true victims and that’s what saddens me most about all of this,” Palmieri said in a statement to the Star.
Osborn met Palmieri in Toronto around 2003 when she was 15 and he was 25, Osborn’s motion says. It was around this time that Palmieri played bass and sang in a group called Kill Cheerleader, which garnered some local success — Star music critic Ben Rayner called the band “mightily underrated” in a 2008 story.
After one concert, hosted at Toronto’s Rivoli Café and Club, Palmieri purchased Osborn and a friend of hers two pitchers of beer, according to her motion. Later that night, outside, he gave her whisky, it continues, and Osborn proceeded to consume “several” shots and got into his car, intoxicated.
“Because of her inebriation, (Osborn) was in no condition to give her consent, and in fact, she does not believe she gave her consent to Plaintiff,” Osborn’s motion says. “The facts of this case establish (Osborn) was sexually assaulted, manipulated and physically abused by Plaintiff.”
Afterwards, Palmieri “controlled everything (Osborn) did,” Osborn’s motion says, including the band’s finances, what she could eat, wear and what to say in public. Palmieri started to be physically abusive in 2008, it continues.
Osborn “suffered pain, bruises and fear,” the motion says.
“At no point during our relationship did I abuse Margaret nor did I drug her in order to take advantage of her sexually,” Palmieri’s motion says. “(I)t is difficult if not impossible for me to get any type of work as simply searching my name online yields results stating that I am a ‘rapist.’ ”
Record contracts reviewed by the Star show that Osborn was officially released from Crystal Castles on Jan. 8, 2015, from Polydor Limited, a U.K. record label.
But Palmieri’s motion says the record agreement continues as a viable contract and that Osborn continues to receive royalties.
Exhibits in support of Osborn’s motion show that James Sandom, Crystal Castles’ manager in 2012, was aware of Palmieri’s alleged conduct in at least one incident that occurred in November of that year. Osborn and Sandom exchanged messages discussing an incident in which Palmieri threw her phone out the window of a vehicle.
“It was violent and I have allot (sic) less hair on one side on my head,” wrote Osborn in an email.
“This is a domestic abuse charge, he would end up in a cell — I’m not into it, and can’t let it go on,” responded Sandom.
Osborn, in a subsequent message, says “to be honest its (sic) been getting worse this year and I’m really out of ideas for how to deal with him.”
The opposition says that “beyond a single grouping of text messages provided by Defendant stating that (Palmieri) had thrown her phone out of a window, there is no evidence or statements by any other party or on any other occasion to suggest violence, much less sexual assault.”
Exhibits supporting Palmieri’s lawsuit appear to show a “loving relationship.”
“I want to buy a house together,” Osborn wrote to Palmieri in 2012 via email. “I love you so much.”
Palmieri’s lawyers included a diary entry, said to be penned by Osborn, which gives Palmieri four out of five stars for attractiveness. It does not provide a date for the entry, however.
Palmieri “is the hottest guy I’ve ever done,” she is said to have written. “Fox on the rocks. I was actually glad to find out he liked me. Corny?”
In response, Osborn’s lawyer says a “hodgepodge of random emails” and a “stolen page” from her diary does not detract from the veracity of what Osborn is alleging.
“To callously suggest these scattered, unrelated emails and texts, some of which are from third parties, proves the statement was false and/or the requisite element of actual malice is an affront to plaintiffs’ legal burden and victims everywhere,” the reply defending Osborn’s initial motion says.
A hearing is scheduled for later this month.