Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Homeowner Has No Right to Lawyer at Association Meeting—Court of Appeal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A property owner’s right to attend a meeting of a homeowner’s association does not necessarily include the right to send a lawyer to represent the owner at the meeting, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. One yesterday certified for publication its May 22 opinion, upholding a San Diego Superior Court judge’s order denying a preliminary injunction that would have required the Isla Verde Association, Inc. to allow attorney Peter D. Lepiscopo to attend association meetings as a representative of his client.
Lepiscopo represents SB Liberty, LLC, which is managed by Gregg Short. SB Liberty acquired ownership of a home in the Solana Beach development from Short and his wife, who reside on the property.
The association is suing the Shorts as a result of a dispute, now more than six years old, over the remodeling of their home. They retained Lepiscopo in 2011, and the attorney notified the association’s legal counsel, William S. Budd, that he was their lawyer and that he was considering attending the association board’s September 2011 meeting to discuss the dispute.
Budd responded that he was not planning to attend the meeting and that it would be unethical for Lepiscopo to do so, since he would then be communicating with Budd’s client without Budd’s permission.
Argument Over Ethics
Lepiscopo responded that there would be no ethical violation because he would be attending as a representative of an association member. Budd reiterated by email that such attendance would be improper and that Lepiscopo did not have his permission to communicate with the association.
Lepiscopo responded that Budd and the board did “not hold a veto over [the Shorts’] right to decide the manner in which they attend any [Association] Board meeting.” Lepiscopo attempted to attend the September meeting but was denied access, and was subsequently denied access to the October meeting as well, prompting the lawsuit.
Retired San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Frederick Mandabach, sitting in San Diego on assignment, denied the motion for an injunction, and Justice Gilbert Nares, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct.
The association’s governing documents, he said, clearly limit the right to attend meetings to members or other persons with special permission from the board. Since Lepiscopo neither managed the company that was the record owner and association member, and was not a member himself, he had no right to attend, the justice said.
“[T]he Board had the authority to determine how to conduct its meetings and, thus, the power to prevent a nonmember (Lepiscopo) from attending and participating in those meetings on behalf of SB Liberty as its representative,” the justice said.
Nor did the Shorts or their company establish any harm resulting from the board’s action, since they remain free to attend the meetings themselves, Nares said.
The case is SB Liberty, LLC v. Isla Verde Association, Inc., D061261.
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