Thursday, January 31, 2002
Court of Appeal Reinstates Harassment Suit Against Pasadena Lawyer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Portions of a lawsuit charging a Pasadena attorney with harassing a securities broker while trying to gather evidence to use in an arbitration proceeding, dismissed under the anti-SLAPP statute, have been reinstated by the Court of Appeal for this district.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins had stricken Geoffrey S. Paul’s claims that Michael E. Friedman subjected him to intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel and slander, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with economic relationships, and malicious prosecution.
The judge denied Friedman’s motion with respect to a claim for breach of a confidentiality agreement, and said Paul could sue for an injunction against further breaches of the alleged agreement. The appellate court’s Div. Seven Tuesday upheld that portion of the ruling, while reinstating all of the stricken causes of action.
Friedman represented 11 former clients of Paul’s in an unsuccessful arbitration proceeding in which the claimants sought $31 million in damages from Paul and his employer, CIBC Oppenheimer. They alleged that Paul improperly advised them to maintain large positions in MedPartners, a company whose value fell drastically after an anticipated merger fell through.
In his complaint, Paul alleged that Friedman went well beyond the limits of permissible discovery and investigation, seeking and disclosing information about the broker’s financial affairs, spending habits, tax problems, client relations, and personal relationships.
The information was gained, Paul added, through unauthorized entry onto his property, covert surveillance, and the questioning of individuals who had no knowledge of anything relevant to the arbitration.
Friedman claimed, in support of his anti-SLAPP motion, that he needed the information in order to prove that Paul was impaired or distracted by personal problems and thus unable to manage sophisticated financial affairs. He also disclaimed knowledge of any illegal activities on the part of the investigators.
Neal Robb of Keesal, Young & Logan, who represented Paul in the arbitration, noted in his declaration that the arbitrators had rejected Friedman’s efforts to obtain information about the broker’s personal habits and private financial affairs through discovery.
In granting the motion to strike as to all claims except those related to the confidentiality agreement, Collins opined that all of the conduct complained of “seems to be related to investigating Mr. Paul with respect to these claims” and thus within the ambit of the anti-SLAPP statute, and that Paul didn’t show a likelihood of prevailing at trial.
Justice Paul Boland, writing for the Court of Appeal, disagreed. (Boland, now a member of Div. Eight, is on temporary assignment to Div. Seven to complete work begun while he was serving there as an assigned Superior Court judge.)
“While we are required to construe the statute broadly, we must also adhere to its express words and remain mindful of its purpose,” Boland wrote.
Friedman, he elaborated, failed to make a prima facie showing that the lawsuit arose from the exercise of speech or petition rights in an official proceeding, or in connection with a public issue, or matter of public interest, as the statute requires.
The statute, Boland said, would covers statements made in an arbitration proceeding. But it supplies no protection “for a harassing investigation and disclosures made outside the arbitration,” the justice declared.
Friedman’s alleged snooping and disclosures, Boland explained, were neither “made in” the arbitration nor related to an issue in the arbitration.
“In short, it is insufficient to assert that the acts alleged were ‘in connection with’ an official proceeding,” Boland said. “There must be a connection with an issue under review in that proceeding.”
The justice went on to reject the contention that the arbitrators’ admission of evidence that Paul had driven while intoxicated during the time period in question established the relevancy of his personal conduct to the arbitration proceeding. The arbitrators’ decision, he said, makes clear that they found no relationship between Paul’s alleged drinking or other personal habits and any harm suffered by Friedman’s clients.
Attorneys on appeal were Samuel A. Keesal Jr., Neal S. Robb and Dawn M. Schock of Keesal, Young & Logan for Paul and Mark S. Priver of Ohashi & Priver for Friedman.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company