Ashot Egiazaryan, a Russian billionaire and former member of Russia's State Duma, fled the country after tangling with political opponents over a business deal gone bad. He's pursuing a libel lawsuit in New York against individuals he believes are trying to get him expelled from the United States, and he wants a Washington federal judge to help him enforce subpoenas.
According to the complaint (PDF) Egiazaryan filed in April in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, he and his family fled Russia out of fear of their safety after Egiazaryan had taken legal action against another businessman over what he characterized as an “illegal corporate raid” of Egiazaryan’s ownership interests in a massive hotel project.
Egiazaryan claims that Peter Zalmayev, director of the New York-based nonprofit Eurasia Democracy Initiative, launched a smear campaign to get Egiazaryan kicked out of the United States and sent back to Russia. Zalmayev has denied wrongdoing and argued that his speech is constitutionally protected.
Egiazaryan filed a motion to compel (PDF) compliance with subpoenas against Public Strategies Inc., an Austin, Texas-based public relations firm with an office in the District, on Oct. 11 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Public Strategies isn’t a party in the underlying case, but Egiazaryan claims that the firm was in touch with defendants in the New York case.
Public Strategies intended to ask the presiding judge in the New York case, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein, for a protective order to quash the subpoenas. The firm has argued that it was never hired by the defendants and pointed out that Egiazaryan’s complaint doesn’t accuse the firm of having any role in publishing the allegedly defamatory statements.
The documents and testimony included in the subpoenas isn’t relevant to the defamation case and would violate attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine, Public Strategies told Gorenstein in a letter (PDF) asking for a pre-motion conference.
On Monday, Gorenstein issued an order (PDF) stating that he wasn’t sure he had legal authority to hear Public Strategies’ request without a formal transfer of the case. In filings this week, attorneys for Egiazaryan and Public Strategies disagreed over how to interpret Gorenstein’s order.
Egiazaryan, in notifying (PDF) U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington of the order on Monday, said Gorenstein’s order was “self-explanatory” and that Gorenstein had denied Public Strategies' request to file a motion in New York.
Yesterday, however, Public Strategies filed a response (PDF) arguing that Gorenstein wasn’t saying no to hearing the motion, but instead that he wasn’t sure he had the authority to do so without a full transfer of the case. Public Strategies also sent a letter (PDF) to Gorenstein on Monday laying out its case for his power to hear the motion without a transfer.
Egiazaryan is being represented in New York by Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer, and Andrew Tulumello of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is representing him in the Washington dispute. Public Strategies is being represented by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington and Austin, Texas-based firm McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore.