The Rundown on Jeff Ross's Defamation Lawsuit


The Rundown on Jeff Ross's Defamation Lawsuit

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably gathered that for the last month and a halfish, ever since I wrote about the Legion of Skanks recording at The Stand, I’ve been on the receiving end of several waves of cyber harassment. The culprits are members of an online forum for fans of Opie & Anthony, the “Anthony” half of which was involved in that recording. They’ve doxxed not only me and my entire family, but also people who’ve tweeted at me or whom I’ve retweeted. Everyone’s fine, to be clear: so far the harassment has amounted only to vulgar texts and voicemails, which are obviously distressing, but still much tamer than what other victims of this sort of thing have been subjected to.

I’ve been spending the last couple weeks trying to figure out the identities of some of these people. It’s time-consuming and honestly draining work, which is why I’ve fallen behind on my obligations to you, dear readers. But it’s also yielded what may be legitimately newsworthy stuff, and not just in the “this thing happened to me” sense. I’ll hopefully be able to share some fruits of that effort next week.

In the meantime I want to briefly discuss one piece of comedy news that’s flown under the radar: Jeff Ross’s defamation lawsuit against Jessica Radtke, who accused him of grooming and sexually abusing her when she was a teenager. I’m teeing up some experts for a more thorough analysis when Radtke’s lawyers file their response, but for now let’s just walk through the key arguments.


The complaint, which you can read here, has two prongs. One argues that Jessica Radtke is a serial liar with a history of fabricating abuse allegations against her family members. The other trots out a parade of witnesses to refute her allegations against Ross, arguing they had a completely consensual relationship that began after she turned 18 and actively “pursued” him.

We won’t focus on the first prong today, as I don’t have the expertise necessary to contextualize it—not just in terms of defamation law, but also in terms of her reportedly tumultuous family life, of which the complaint only provides one side. It takes no expertise, however, to compare the lawsuit’s “refutations” against the substance of Radtke’s claims. If you look closely, you’ll see they don’t refute much at all.

As a refresher, Vulture’s exposé cited seven sources who “confirmed they were aware of Radtke’s relationship with Ross at the time of the allegations or had been told about it in the years before” she posted about it on Facebook. Two of those sources confirmed their contemporaneous awareness on the record. One was her father, Ross Radtke, who said he knew about the relationship and didn’t care. Another was David Batista, her coworker at Barry Katz Entertainment, Ross’s manager’s company. Per Vulture: “…[H]e was aware of her relationship with Ross at the time and that she had to keep it secret. She would mention it when they’d hang out after work, he says, but not when other friends were around. Jessica had the keys to Ross’s apartment and took Batista there on one occasion.”

The lawsuit doesn’t mention Batista at all. It does include Ross Radtke in its list of “witnesses” refuting the allegations. He told Ross’s attorneys he lied to Vulture because Jessica threatened to alienate him if he didn’t—one wonders what incentive he has to take that risk now—and that “during the call he ‘read from a script that Jessica had prepared for me.’” That means he’s alleging she scripted all this:

Radtke’s father confirmed he was aware that Ross and his daughter had a sexual relationship. “At that point, she was basically living the life of an adult,” he says. “I didn’t really monitor what she was doing because she was savvy enough to take the subway and go around, and she was hanging out with adults,” he recalls. “I trusted her judgment.” When asked whether he ever expressed concern about the age difference between Jessica and Ross, he indicated that he approved of her dating an older man. “If you go out with a 17-year-old guy, he may want to drive fast and impress you and you get killed, you know?” he says. “I really didn’t think much of it.”

(He also said earlier in the article that he went to Ross’s apartment “‘once or twice’ while his daughter was there and noted that she was away from home a lot.”)

The complaint goes on to quote several other witnesses who say, without any detail, that Radtke was lying:

-Her brother, who lived with her during the alleged relationship, said he is “100% sure that Jeff was never inappropriate with Jessica and that they did not have any sexual or romantic relationship before Jessica became of age.”

-A woman named Janice Messitte, whom the complaint describes as Radtke’s “long-time dear friend,” said: “Jessica is lying about having had a sexual relationship with Jeff Ross before she was of-age.” (Note how both she and Radtke’s brother use that same legalistic construction—before she was of age.)

-Gina Savage, the booker who allegedly helped set up Radtke and Ross, “unequivocally refuted Radtke’s false accusations, noting that she had been very close friends with Radtke during the relevant time period, and that she was not aware of any sexual or inappropriate activity between Radtke and Ross when Radtke was underage.”

-Radtke’s former fiancé, who described Radtke as an “opportunist trying to take what was wonderful memories as recounted by her and her actions (why frame the photo of your alleged abuser) and turn it into financial gain only when public opinion is on her side . . . NONE OF THIS HAPPENED THE WAY SHE DESCRIBES IN THE VIDEO. NONE.”

-The comedian Sherrod Small, who told Ross’s attorneys he’s “never seen Jeff being inappropriate with Jessica at any time and it really breaks my heart that she’s going after him and Gina Savage.”

-Barry Katz, who said: “I truly didn’t understand why an article like this was written, when neither myself nor anyone else I knew had ever seen any inappropriate behavior.” (Remember, Radtke alleged that Ross went to great lengths to conceal their relationship.)

In its strongest effort to counter Radtke’s allegations, the complaint quotes two friends of Ross who give the impression they were with him the night he first allegedly raped Radtke. To wit:

27. Radtke falsely claims that her underage sexual relationship with Ross began in his apartment on July 8, 1999, the night after Ross had appeared on “Late Show With David Letterman.” Producer Mark Chapin has directly refuted Radtke’s accusation, specifically noting as follows:
“I remember Jeff inviting me down to go with him to his Letterman show taping. I drove down from Boston and we went in through the stage door. It was very memorable because I’d never been in the studio before. I met Paul Schaeffer on the side of the stage. Afterwards we watched Letterman film some cutaways and then we watched it air on TV later at the Comedy Cellar. The next night we celebrated with dinner at the Friars Club and I crashed on Jeff’s couch the rest of the weekend. I never met Jessica Radtke and she was not at his apartment that week or weekend”.
(emphasis added).

28. Mark Hinkes has also refuted Radtke’s false claim that she had a sexual encounter with Ross the night after his appearance on the David Letterman show in 1999. Specifically, Hinkes confirmed that he went back to Ross’ apartment that night and stayed until 3 am, and that neither Radtke nor any other women were at Ross’ apartment.

Note that neither witness says they were with Ross the entire night of July 8th. Additionally, Chapin doesn’t specify what time they dined at the Friars Club or whether he crashed on Ross’s couch that night specifically. “The rest of the weekend” could conceivably exclude the 8th, a Thursday evening. Hinkes, for his part, leaves out what time he “went back” to Ross’s apartment.

Compare this with Radtke’s account in Vulture:

On the night of July 8, 1999, as she was walking up the stairs to her home in Queens, Ross called Jessica’s prepaid cell phone (she remembers the exact date, she says, because Ross had performed stand-up on The Late Show With David Letterman the night before). He asked her, she recalls, to meet him outside his apartment in Manhattan, on Mercer near 8th Street. “He goes, ‘Is it okay if I ask your dad if it’s okay if you come to the city tonight? It’d be really cool. Maybe we could go to the [Comedy] Cellar or we could go somewhere and have a coffee,’” Radtke says. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love that.’ He goes, ‘Do you want me to be your boyfriend?’ Like that — I’ll never forget the cadence. I just giggled. At that point, I [was] a girl that really thought I had something to prove, and the way I was going to prove it was trying to get a boyfriend that was a really good comic.”

According to Radtke, she and Ross never went to the Cellar or for coffee that night. She met Ross outside his apartment and went into the building with him after he told her he had forgotten his credit card. “In the elevator, I just attacked him. I started trying to kiss him, and he goes ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! There’s cameras!’ Not ‘You’re 15,’ and he points,” Radtke recalls. “So I just kind of went ‘Oh, okay, I’m sorry.’” Once they entered Ross’s apartment — which Radtke describes as “filthy with South Park stuff and The Man Show shit all over the place” — she alleges they instantly started making out. Then she performed oral sex on Ross and they had unprotected sex, after which Ross told Jessica she had to leave. “I’d felt like I won. I felt very Okay, cool — if I never saw him again, cool,” she recalls. “He just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re only 15. I can’t believe it.’ It was like he was trying to make it a compliment — like I’m so mature.” On her way out, she says, he gave her a Cartman hat as a parting gift.

He summoned her, she went, he told her to leave, she left. None of this is incompatible with Ross having dinner with friends and then hanging out with them later in the evening. These “witness” statements appear designed to give the impression someone would’ve seen Ross bring a girl up to his apartment late at night, but that’s not the allegation. If anything, they make clear Ross had a reason to usher Radtke out.

The two remaining “refutations” underscore how flimsy this section of the lawsuit is. Here’s one:

Radtke used her ticket stub from another occasion – a roast of Rob Reiner – as purported evidence she was Ross’s “date” on that occasion. This is also completely false. In fact, another individual has confirmed that Radtke was with him that night and that he brought her home.

Three interesting things about this. Radtke also alleged Ross took her to a 1999 roast of Jerry Stiller (when she was 15), and had a photo of them at the event to prove it. By refuting the Reiner roast while not even mentioning the Stiller one, the lawsuit would seem to lend credence to that particular allegation. It’s also notable that in a section that identifies a whole bunch of witnesses by name, this paragraph conceals the identity of whichever “indivdiual” took Radtke to the Reiner roast. Finally, I am struck by the ambiguity of those final three words—he brought her to whose home?—which are either unfortunate phrasing or an explosive new allegation. (I asked Ross’s attorneys to fill in these blanks, but they didn’t respond.)

And here’s the last paragraph in the section:

Radtke herself has seemingly acknowledged that there was no romantic or sexual relationship between her and Ross before she was of age. Specifically, and as recounted by Radtke in and for the Vulture Article, at an event at the Boston Comedy Club where she performed, Radtke made a joke about “being of legal age soon” and continued with the punch-line: “[t]here’s a signup sheet in the back, and Jeff Ross’ name is the first one on it.” In the words of her own joke, she made clear that there was no sexual relationship between Radtke and Ross while she was underage, that she was not dating Ross, and that she could not do so before she was of age.

In summation, the essence of Ross’s defense is that he knew Radtke only as a “work acquaintance” until she was 18 (and he was in his mid-30s), when they started dating. To demonstrate that she’s lying about everything before that point, he cites domestic disputes she was involved in years later (in an effort to undermine her credibility), un-disprovable blanket statements, anecdotes that don’t contradict the allegations, and the claims of a man who—if he is to be believed—lied to a national publication a few months ago.

He also says the lawsuit, in which he asks the court for punitive damages, “is not about money; it is about the truth and clearing his name.” All very persuasive stuff, don’t you think?

Well, that’s that. I’ll have more for you as this story develops.