Thursday, May 30, 2013
Judge Rejects Suit Against Feuer and Consultant as SLAPP
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Westside activist’s suit against Los Angeles City Attorney-Elect Michael Feuer and his campaign consultant is a strategic lawsuit against public participation and must be stricken, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled yesterday.
The suit by Laura Lake “is merely a politically motivated complaint meant to chill the political speech of a political rival,” Judge Richard Rico said in a tentative ruling, which a spokesperson for Feuer said had been made final. The ruling grants motions by Feuer, John Shallman, and related defendants to strike the complaint.
An attorney for Lake could not be reached for comment.
Lake, a longtime slow-growth advocate and three-time Los Angeles City Council candidate, accused the defendants of violating state and local laws by entering into an illegal fee arrangement. The arrangement, which Feuer and Shallman acknowledged and insisted was legal, provided that Shallman would only charge Feuer $1 for consulting services, but would get a $50,000 bonus if Feuer won.
Feuer, who previously served on the council and in the state Assembly, won 62 percent of the vote last Tuesday, easily ousting incumbent—and former Shallman client—Carmen Trutanich.
Lake claimed the bonus arrangement was designed to circumvent the city’s limits on campaign spending by candidates who receive matching funds. By not incurring a debt to Shallman during the campaign, Feuer was able to stay within the $1.259 million limit for his race, entitling him to $300,000 in matching funds for the primary and $350,000 for the runoff, the plaintiff charged.
Lake claimed that the arrangement was not entered into for bona fide business reasons and was not consistent with Shallman’s contracts with other clients.
Rico said the anti-SLAPP statute applied to all causes of action in the complaint, which charged the defendants with multiple violations of the city’s charter and ordinances, as well as fraud, conspiracy, and denial of equal protection. The judge cited Beilenson v. Superior Court (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 944, which held that a suit regarding statements made in a political campaign was subject to the anti-SLAPP law as implicating constitutionally protected activity in connection with a public issue.
He also cited The Governor Gray Davis Committee v. American Taxpayers Alliance (2002) 102 Cal.App. 4th 449, which held that a suit filed by supporters of the then-governor against an organization that aired television commercials critical of his handling of the state’s energy crisis, seeking to force the group to register as a California political committee and disclose its donors, was a SLAPP.
‘Flat Out Meritless’
Rico went on to hold that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case with regard to any of her causes of action. He cited evidence that Feuer and Shallman had formed their arrangement after consulting an executive on the staff of the city’s Ethics Commission, who said it was legal.
Many of the plaintiff’s claims were “flat out meritless,” Rico wrote, as in the case of allegations that Feuer had committed perjury and other crimes, and a call for the court to order disgorgement of matching funds and Feuer’s “removal from” the office he is scheduled to assume July 1.
“These claims are well outside the scope of this court’s jurisdiction to grant even if proven,” the judge said.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company