LOS ANGELES — A federal judge has set a trial date of April 28 in Danni Ashe’s multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit against the Daily Mail of London.
Ashe in 2013 filed suit against the Daily Mail for publishing her photo within the context of an article about an adult performer who tested positive for HIV. The performer described in the story, unknown at the time, was later identified as former adult star Cameron Bay.
The Daily Mail article included a stock image of Ashe posing on a bed in lingerie in a provocative manner, accompanied with the caption, "Moratorium: The porn industry in California was shocked on Wednesday by the announcement that a performer had tested HIV positive."
The Daily Mail later removed Ashe' s picture but did not respond to her demand to publish a retraction, prompting damage claims of $3 million.
The April 28 trial set by U.S. District Judge George Wu last week was seen as another victory for Ashe and her attorney, Steven L. Weinberg.
In July, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's order denying the Daily Mail’s motion to drop Ashe’s suit, disposing of the media company’s repeated argument that no reasonable reader would have found the article defamatory because the online publication did not affirmatively state she was the performer with HIV.
“It doesn't sound like much but this was a huge win for [Ashe],” Weinberg told XBIZ. “Prior to [last week’s case management conference], Daily Mail proposed a discovery plan that included a complex, phased discovery schedule with stays built in to allow the court to rule on a Daily Mail summary judgment motion on the issue of 'actual malice' and then another nine months for discovery for the court to rule on ‘dispositive motions’ before trial.
"If you followed Daily Mail's plan, trial would not have been until mid to late 2018. Outrageous.”
Weinberg went on to say that he was able to thwart the Daily Mail's argument by explaining to the court how absurd its plan was in this case.
“We also addressed a Daily Mail’s intention to take discovery into [Ashe's] ‘medical and sexual history’ and called that just another Daily Mail effort to vex, annoy, harass and embarrass her,” Weinberg said.
Wu understood completely, Weinberg said. “In fact, when he called the case, he didn't even ask for any ‘status.’ He took the bench and said tersely: ‘Get ready counsel, I have your schedule’ and proceeded to lay out the trial calendar,” he recalled.
Weinberg said that the court noted that the performer that affected the industry in the article is clearly not Ashe, so her background and history are not particularly relevant, apart from whether she's ever had HIV.
Weinberg told XBIZ that Ashe would have no objection to providing the results of an HIV test.
“We advised that as a practical matter, that issue is put to rest with just a simple HIV test,” Weinberg said. “Judge Wu agreed and also said that if the Daily Mail goes out of bounds on discovery, he would be receptive to a motion for protective order from us.
“Whether it will unfold that way is unknown at this time,” he said.
“Bottom line is, Daily Mail's position on everything was rejected and [Ashe] obtained a very early trial date,” Weinberg said. “Judge Wu is also now keenly aware that Daily Mail's tactic in this case is to try delay — and harass Ms. Ashe — as long as possible and it appears he will not allow either.”
Bolger, who represents the Daily Mail, did not respond to XBIZ for comment on the case schedule.
Ashe founded Danni' s Hard Drive in 1995 and later became known as the "most downloaded woman on the Internet."
Ashe appeared 30 movies, 23 TV appearances and made regular appearances on her website. Her business made $6.5 million in profit in 2001 and maintained 50 full-time employees at the time.
In 2006, Penthouse purchased her companies, Danni Ashe Inc. and Video Bliss Inc., for $3 million. The acquisition included Danni.com, DannisHotBox.com and DannisHardDrive.com.
Pictured: Screen cap of Daily Mail story with Danni Ashe