(CN) – Singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday to ask a judge to block a lawsuit brought against her by Chris Nelson, a music producer who alleged that Bridgers had defamed in an Instagram post.
Nelson, who owns a downtown LA recording studio and is a collector and dealer of vintage musical instruments, sued Bridgers in September 2021. Bridgers filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on anti- SLAPP, a legal tactic available in California and other states to block lawsuits seeking to restrict the right to certain forms of protected free speech.
On Thursday, Judge Curtis Kin said he was leaning to grant the motion to block Nelson’s trial.
“It sounds like a he said/she said glitch,” Kin said. “It is difficult to see, looking at the record, how the complainant could show that Ms Bridgers, when published, either knew her statements were untrue or had serious doubts as to their veracity.”
Nonetheless, the judge did not rule on the matter or on a separate motion to release Bridgers’ deposition, which is currently sealed.
Bridgers, 27, has been nominated for four Grammy awards and has performed on Saturday Night Live. She is also known for dating musician Ryan Adams and accusing him of emotional abuse. She later spoke out in favor of women accusing musician Marilyn Manson of sexual abuse.
Beginning in 2018, Bridgers, Nelson, and Nelson’s girlfriend Emily Bannon began having what Nelson would later call in his trial “consensual sexual encounters”. Bannon testified that these encounters only happened a handful of times. Bannon and Nelson broke up in 2019.
In 2020, Bannon posted a long series of Instagram stories (social media posts that disappear after 24 hours) accusing Nelson of a wide range of crimes and immoral conduct, including murder, physical abuse, theft and psychological abuse. Among other things, she claimed that Nelson owed her $12,000; that he had defrauded his neighbor of more than $100,000; and that he claimed to have beaten “a young Latinx boy to death with a baseball bat after taunting him with a racial slur”.
Bridgers, in his own Instagram story, expressed his support for Bannon, writing, “I have witnessed and can personally verify much of the abuse (caretaking, theft, violence) perpetrated by Chris Nelson, owner of a studio called Sound Space.” She added: “For anyone who knows Chris Nelson, is considering working with him, or wants to learn more, there’s an articulate and stunning account on @emilybannon’s page as a highlight. TRIGGER WARNING for pretty much anything that goes off.” Bridgers, at the time, had around half a million subscribers on the photo-sharing platform.
In his civil complaint, Nelson said the post had devastated his businesses and “musicians and artists have taken [his] name of their projects and stripped [Nelson] credits he had earned by producing their music. Nelson also sued Bannon and another woman, Noel Wells, for defamation.
In order to win a defamation suit, the plaintiff usually must prove that the defendant lied or acted with a reckless disregard for the truth. Bridgers has defended her statement as true – that is, she says (according to court documents referencing her sealed deposition) that Nelson told her he beat someone to death with a baseball bat and stealing $30,000 worth of musical equipment and burying it in the desert to hide it from law enforcement.
Nelson’s attorney, Bradford Hughes, called the Instagram Stories posted by Bridgers and Bannon “set up by two malicious individuals…upset at the end of a romantic relationship.” He said that although Bridgers and Bannon were told of Nelson’s alleged criminal history, they said nothing until their threesome relationship fell apart – until, Hughes said, Nelson had a new girlfriend.
“After that, Emily Bannon said to Phoebe Bridgers, ‘I want to take this guy down,'” Hughes said.
Hughes claimed the text messages showed the two plotting on Instagram Stories. Bridgers denied this. Hughes said in his deposition, Bridgers admitted to never personally seeing Nelson stealing, committing acts of violence or “grooming” (a word Bridgers uses a little differently than law enforcement or most other people), despite her Instagram post saying she “witnessed…much of the abuse.”
Bridgers’ attorney, Michael Strub, said Bridgers was just repeating what Nelson told him.
“The plaintiff told him he had killed someone with a baseball bat,” Strub said. “This is enough to show that Ms Bridgers, when she posted her Instagram post, did not believe it was untrue.”
He also defended the delay in reporting Nelson’s behavior.
“When you’re in this situation, you don’t necessarily realize the extent of the abuse you’re seeing,” Strub said. “It kind of encroaches on you.”
Judge Kin said he was inclined to grant the anti-SLAPP motion and suggested Bridgers’ posts were a matter of public interest and therefore protected speech.
“It appears to be a matter of public interest,” Kin said. “Phoebe Bridgers is trying to provide protective information to consumers… She wants to provide complete information to those who are considering working with Mr. Nelson.”
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