Friday, June 9, 2017
C.A. Affirms Attorney’s Vexatious Litigant Status
Imposes Sanctions Amounting to $5,500 for a Frivolous Appeal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld an order declaring an Orange County attorney to be a vexatious litigant, imposed a $5,500 sanction on her for a frivolous appeal, and directed the clerk to forward a copy of the opinion to the State Bar.
The Fourth District’s Div. Three, in an opinion by Justice William W. Bedsworth, affirmed the dismissal of a complaint filed by attorney Paula Skerston of Placentia against the Law Office of Robert Newman. The dismissal followed Skerston’s failure to post $15,000 as a condition of pursuing her action, imposed after Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Aguirre adjudged her to be a vexatious litigant.
Bedford noted that Skerston’s latest lawsuit against Newman, like previous ones, stems from a 2007 restraining order he obtained against her on behalf of a client, Linda Sheehan. The jurist declared:
“Skerston’s decade-long crusade against Newman is the very definition of frivolous.”
The action dismissed by Aguirre was based on Skerston’s allegations of false light invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress allegedly stemming from Newman’s response to her “review” of him which she posted on Yelp. His response includes a link to the Court of Appeal’s 2012 opinion upholding the dismissal, pursuant to an anti-SLAPP motion, of Skerston’s action against Newman and Sheehan.
Attorney Paula Skelton’s Yelp “review” of attorney Robert Newman appears above, as well as his response. Skerston sued over the response. Five subsequent reviews by her of Newman, accusing him of various misdeeds, also appear.
In that opinion, Bedsworth observed that “[t]his is appellant Paula Skerston’s third trip to the Court of Appeal to protest a restraining order issued against her in 2007” and commented:
“This should therefore be the last of the appeals by Skerston regarding the Sheehan restraining order.”
In yesterday’s opinion, Bedsworth pointed to that 2012 remark, and said that Skerston has chosen to “disregard our strong adjuration from further litigation the last time she was here.”
He also wrote:
“[W]hile this is a new skirmish, it is only the latest salvo in a battle over the 2007 restraining order that has been going on now for over a decade. Each time Skerston has contested it, claiming it was obtained through falsehoods, she has lost. This appeal represents yet another loss.”
Skerston argued on appeal that her vexatious litigant status must be removed because two of the cases which Newman pointed to in which she incurred defeats have not reached final determinations.
“Whether these two cases have been finally determined is irrelevant. Even without these two cases, Skerston has repeatedly relitigated or attempted to relitigate the 2007 restraining order, the validity of which was finally determined against her by this court in 2008….Since then we have had two more appeals and a petition for rehearing about the restraining order in this court, and Skerston sued Newman in 2009, all based on the 2007 restraining order. Incredibly, Skerston is still arguing, in this appeal, that the 2007 restraining order was obtained by fraud.”
The jurist pointed to other attempts to relitigate what had already been determined and said:
“Skerston meets the definition of vexatious litigant.”
Skerston insisted that Newman had no standing to move for her adjudication as a vexatious litigant. She named as the defendant ““Law Office of Robert Newman, a Suspended Corporation,” Skerston pointed out, arguing that that Skerston, to enter the litigation as an individual, would have to have filed a motion to intervene.
“Skerston supplies no authority for her contentions that a noticed motion or a complaint in intervention was required before Newman individually could be recognized as the true defendant, or even that Newman was not the true defendant….
“Skerston’s argument assumes that Newman was not the true defendant until the court ruled on the issue at the August 2015 case management conference. But if Newman the individual was erroneously sued as his corporation, he was erroneously sued from the beginning. The court’s ruling in August did not substitute one defendant for another. It clarified the identity of the original defendant.”
He added that “Skerston also overlooks the fact that the court set an OSC on its own motion to declare her a vexatious litigant,” so that Aguirre acted “independently of Newman’s motion.”
Bedsworth declared that “upon motion of her long-suffering opponent we finally impose sanctions for a frivolous appeal,” granting Newman $5,000, and ordering that $500 be paid to the court.”
The opinion, which was not certified for publication, cane in Skerston v. Law Office of Robert Newman G053031.
Skerston and Newman each appeared in pro per.
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