Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, December 15, 2011


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S.C. Denies Review of Ruling That Suit Against GOP Was SLAPP




The California Supreme Court yesterday denied review of a First District Court of Appeal ruling that a former Republican volunteer’s suit against the state party and some of its candidates and officials was a strategic lawsuit against public participation.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously denied review in Fennell V. California Republican Party, No. A129558. Presiding Justice  Ignacio Ruvolo’s unpublished opinion for Div. Four was filed Sept. 22.

Fennell claims that after working in Republican campaigns, he discovered that the party needed to recruit more “technologically savvy” candidates who would appeal to younger voters. His efforts to encourage such candidacies were thwarted, however, by a “California Republican Party culture of corruption and incompetency, which was firmly entrenched,” he alleged in his San Mateo Superior Court complaint.

Retaliation Claim

His critics, he said, coalesced in 2009 when he announced his run for state party chairman. Veteran operatives, he contended, retaliated against him by falsely accusing him of being “a molester, statutory rapist and thief.”

He referenced an email by Catherine Brinkman, a longtime local party activist and official whom Fennell described as a high-placed figure in Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor. Brinkman claimed that Fennell was politically inexperienced and overzealous, and said there had been rumors of improprieties with underage female volunteers, and that he had raised money for the county party and not turned all of it over.

His pro per complaint, filed in June of last year, included causes of action for libel, slander, extortion, intimidation, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy.

Prominent Defendants

Defendants included Whitman, her primary opponent Steve Poizner, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, and their campaign committees; the state and national parties; Ron Nehring, who was state chairman at the time of the filing; Thomas del Beccaro, who was vice chair prior to succeeding Nehring; presidential contender Mitt Romney; and a couple of local party officials.

In support of their anti-SLAPP motions, Whitman, Poizner and Fiorina all denied knowing Fennell or having any knowledge of the facts alleged in his complaint; Nehring acknowledged having sent a representative to convince Fennell that running for state chair was a waste of time because few of the delegates who would be voting on the office knew he was, but denied that any type of threats had been made.

One party official, Luis Buhler, acknowledged that he knew Fennell as a volunteer, and had told him not to hold closed-door meetings with young people at the county party headquarters. But Buhler and others said this was a “common sense” practice and not an accusation that Fennell had done anything wrong, and specifically denied that they had made statements attributed to them by Fennell or engaged in the retaliatory conduct that he alleged.

A San Mateo Superior Court judge granted the anti-SLAPP motions.

Ruvolo, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the motions were correctly granted because Fennell, although he filed an opposition under penalty of perjury, had not presented any evidence to contradict the facts as set forth in the defendants’ declarations. He therefore failed to show any merit to his action, let alone the prima facie case required to withstand an anti-SLAPP motion once the defendants met their initial burden of showing that the suit implicated their free speech rights with respect to a public issue, the presiding justice explained.

Other Actions

In other conference action, the justices:

•Denied Sean Patrick Gjerde’s request for a stay of his 60-day suspension. Gjerde, from Elk Grove near Sacramento, previously stipulated that he had billed a legal insurance plan provider for services not performed and failed to return unearned fees.

Gjerde is charged in a separate proceeding with misappropriating more than $80,000 from a trust, and has also been indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

•Let stand a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal in a dispute between Marathon Entertainment, a talent agency, and the law firm of Fox & Spillane LLP. .

Marathon sued for malpractice, claiming the firm mishandled breach of contract claims against three of the company’s former clients, Reggie Hayes, Nina Blasi, and Nia Vardoles. Fox & Spillane counterclaimed for unpaid fees and won.

Marathon claimed that specific language in the arbitration agreement meant it was entitled to judicial review of the arbitration award for factual and legal error, contrary to the usual rule. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos and the Court of Appeal disagreed.

The Supreme Court denied review, but also denied a request to publish the opinion in Marathon Entertainment, Inc. v. Fox & Spillane LLP, B224686.


Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company