by Paul Alan Levy
Usha Rajagopal, a San Francisco cosmetic surgeon, has tried to use cosmetic surgery of a legal sort to improve the appearance of her online reviews. She is under discipline by the California Medical Board because of the sloppy administration of anesthesia that put one of her patients in a vegetative state. She was also the subject of a devastating article in the San Francisco Weekly which explained that glowing reviews that helped give Rajagopal a favorable ranking on Google search for plastic surgeons in San Francisco, with five stars suggesting that her patients love her, are the product of her having hired a firm that wrote phony reviews.
Not satisfied by adding favorable reviews, Dr. Rajagopal is apparently intent on extirpating negative reviews as well. After several members of the public placed comments on Google maps about her situation, Rajagopal sued the commenters as Doe defendants, alleging defamation, in an apparent effort to remove the negative comments from her public profile.
In a brief filed today, my Public Citizen colleague Michael Page is seeking to quash the subpoena. But this traveling SLAPP suit is just another reminder that state anti-SLAPP statutes may not provide enough protection against abusive lawsuits aimed at free speech, because the plaintiff may deliberately bring suit in a jurisdiction that does not have a strong statute protection against SLAPP suits. Only a federal anti-SLAPP statute, of the sort proposed in the last Congress by Representative Steve Cohen, will prevent such shenanigans.