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Suit by 1-800-GET-THIN exec against Times columnist dismissed

President of the firm known for its ubiquitous Southland freeway billboards promoting the Lap-Band weight-loss device accused Times writer Michael Hiltzik of illegally recording conversations.

February 17, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that accused a columnist for The Times of illegally recording conversations with the president of the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing firm.

The company is known for its ubiquitous billboards plastered along Southland freeways — and its catchy jingle that pops up on the radio and television — that promote shedding pounds via the Lap-Band weight-loss device.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Debre Katz Weintraub threw out the lawsuit that Robert Silverman, the marketing company's president, had filed against Times columnist Michael Hiltzik.

"The plaintiff has not satisfied his burden of demonstrating that there is a probability he will prevail on his claims," the judge said in her Jan. 31 ruling.

Silverman had accused Hiltzik of recording their telephone conversations without Silverman's knowledge, which he maintained violated state law. The Times denied any wrongdoing.

An attorney who represented Silverman in the lawsuit posted billboards along Southern California freeways that advertised "Class Action Lawsuit" under a bright blue heading. It urged motorists to contact San Diego lawyer Jeffrey Krinsk to "Report LA Times Fraud."

A Times spokeswoman denied any wrongdoing when asked about the billboards.

In a separate development, 1-800-GET-THIN this week dropped its appeal of a federal judge's decision to dismiss a separate lawsuit the company filed against The Times and its journalists for allegedly damaging 1-800-GET-THIN's trademark through their reporting.

Since 2010, The Times has published a series of articles and columns detailing the controversy surrounding the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign and Lap-Band clinics affiliated with the company.

Last summer, Los Angeles Superior Court judges dismissed two libel lawsuits that involved Times publications concerning 1-800-GET-THIN. Both of those dismissals have been appealed.

Five Southern California patients have died since 2009 after undergoing surgery to implant the Lap-Band weight-loss device at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.

In recent months, local, state and federal regulatory agencies have been examining the 1-800-GET-THIN affiliates amid questions about the advertising, surgery-related deaths and accusations of insurance fraud.

In December, the Food and Drug Administration warned 1-800-GET-THIN and the surgery centers that the ads were misleading because they failed to adequately disclose risks of the surgery.

Earlier this month, Irvine-based Allergan Inc., the maker of the Lap-Band, said it would no longer sell its product to clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN. After that move, two clinics tied to 1-800-GET-THIN decided to temporarily halt Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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