Court of Appeal:
Releasing Unredacted Government Claims Is Not Protected
Order Denying County’s Anti-SLAPP Motion in Invasion of Privacy Suit Is Affirmed
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A lawsuit brought by two former high-level prosecutors against Placer County for releasing their governmental claims, pursuant to a Public Records Act request, without redacting personal information, was not a SLAPP, the Third District Court of Appeal held yesterday.
The unpublished opinion by Justice Peter A. Krause affirms an order by Placer Superior Court Judge Richard Meyer denying the county’s motion under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure §425.16, in response to an action for invasion of privacy and failure to abide by a mandated duty.
The lawsuit had been filed by Charles J. Wilson—who had been chief assistant district attorney, was appointed interim district attorney when the incumbent resigned, and was in contention for the post of district attorney—and former Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Miszkewycz, who was put in charge of the office temporarily when Wilson was placed on administrative leave.
Meyer ruled that the lawsuit stemmed from protested conduct—the first prong of the statute—but that the county did not satisfy the second criterion: showing a probability of prevailing on the merits. Krause said the second prong did not need to be addressed because no protected conduct was implicated.
“[T]o constitute protected activity, section 425.16 subdivisions (e)(3) and (4) require that the speech or conduct occur ‘in connection with’ a ‘public issue’ or ‘issue of public interest.’…The specific conduct at issue here—disclosure of personal information in response to a Public Records Act request—was not connected to a public issue or issue of public interest, and therefore fell outside the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute.”
“First, plaintiffs’ government tort claims were not an issue of widespread, public interest….
“Second, even if the substance of the government tort claims was of interest to some limited segment of the population, we fail to see how disclosure of plaintiffs’ home addresses, telephone numbers, and dates of birth contributed to any (legitimate) public discussion or debate.”
Both claims were filed in August 2020. At the time, Miszkewycz—now with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System—was still employed by the county; Wilson wasn’t.
Miszkewycz asserted in her claim that the county had “unlawfully retaliated” against her. It did so, she said, by “placing her under investigation without explanation, making false statements concerning Claimant’s employment, and demoting Claimant because she engaged in whistleblowing activities, including but not limited to reporting and/or refusing to engage in, nepotism, cronyism, and participating in multiple state and local investigations regarding illegal practices at the County of Placer Board of Supervisors.”
Wilson’s claim was to the same effect except that it alleged he had been constructively discharged. He has claimed that he “had no choice but to resign” because the new district attorney “could have immediately demoted” him, placing his retirement benefits in jeopardy.
The case is Miszkewycz v. County of Placer, C096378.
Pending before the Third District is Placer County’s appeal from an order denying its anti-SLAPP motion in Wilson’s separate action for retaliation; the case is fully briefed. Placer’s appeal in Miszkewycz’s employment action is not as far along; on Monday, Miszkewycz filed a request for oral argument.
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