California Court of Appeal Affirms Continuation of Defamation Lawsuit Against Real Housewives of Orange County Star

Steven T. Lowe

On October 23, 2020, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District affirmed the Superior Court of Orange County’s ruling that James Bellino, the ex-husband of former Real Housewives of Orange County (“RHOC”) star Alexis Bellino, can continue with his claims for defamation and the false light in his lawsuit against current RHOC star Tamara Judge.

Bellino filed a defamation lawsuit against Tamara Judge and her co-star Shannon Beador in the Superior Court of Orange County after the two reality television stars made comments about the financial status of Bellino’s business on a gossip podcast in 2018. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of all of Bellino’s claims against Beador. The court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Judge’s motion to strike Bellino’s defamation per se and false light claims under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, concluding Bellino could prevail on these claims based on the merits of the case. According to the unpublished opinion, the court determined that unlike Beador’s remarks on the podcast, Judge’s comments, which included calling Bellino “shady,” anticipating his arrest and criticizing his marriage, were not protected speech.

According to the opinion, Judge attempted to rely on a case previously decided by the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District involving a defamation lawsuit regarding a joke made by comedian Robin Williams. The court determined that “because the claims were all based upon the publication of a joke, no liability attached.” Here, the court decided “Judge is no Robin Williams,” as she did not make the comments as part of a comedy act and “there was no evidence Judge was merely offering an opinion or joking.”

According to the 2018 complaint, Bellino is seeking over $1 million dollars in damages for the harm the comments have caused to his business.

Bellino is represented by Geoffrey A. Neri of Brown Neri Smith & Khan LLP.

Judge is represented by Norman Pine and Scott Tille of Pine Tillett Pine LLP; and Alesandro G. Assanti of Assanti & Associates.

The case is James Bellino v. Tamara Judge, case number G057450, in the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District.