FILED OCT 06
Case No. CV 787521
TERRY JOHNSTON Ph.D, Plaintiff
ROBIN YEAMANS, et al, Defendants
ORDER ON SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE
PURSUANT TO C.C.P. SECTION 425.16
The above-entitled matter came on for hearing before the
Honorable Conrad L. Rushing on June 27, 2000 in Department 17 at which
time the court took the matter under submission. Subsequently, the Court
requested that the Parties further brief several issues. All papers having
been submitted on August 30, 2000, this matter once again stood submitted.
Having considered all papers, evidence and oral arguments, the Court orders
The Defendants' Motion to Strike is GRANTED.
Defendants move specially pursuant to C.C.P. Section 425.16
to Strike the complaint filed by Plaintiff, Johnston, arguing that the
instant complaint is a SLAPP-suit. C.C.P. Section 425.16 allows this Court
to summarily strike a pleading where the Court Finds, based on evidence
presented, that Defendants have made a prima facie showing that the lawsuit
arises from the Defendants' exercise of their First Amendment rights of
petition or free speech, and the Plaintiff cannot establish a probability
that she will prevail on the claims asserted.
A. The Komar Committee Was an Official Proceeding as Contemplated
by the Statute.
The first question to be answered by this Court is whether
the Defendants' conduct was the type of petition activity the statute intends
to protect. This Anti-SLAPP statute applies to causes of action "against
a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person's
right of petition...in connection with a public issue..."C.C.P. Section
425.16(b) Here, Defendants admittedly undertook a campaign against what
they perceived to be abuses in the Family Court and specifically by the
Plaintiff in her role as a quasi-judicial officer. This is clearly a matter
of public concern.
The Statute defines acts in furtherance of petition activity
as "...any written or oral statement or writing made before [or]...in
connection with an issue under consideration or review by...an official
proceeding authorized by law. C.C.P. Section 425.16(e)(1) & (2) The
Defendants' collective activities included letters and complaints to this
Court's committee, formed to investigate alleged abuses in the Family Court,
and filing of formal complaints with the American Psychological Association
("APA") Plaintiff asserts that the Komar Committee was merely
an internal administrative committee, and not an 'official proceeding'
as contemplated by the statute. This Court rejects Plaintiff's interpretation,
and finds that the Komar Committee was an "official proceeding"
under C.C.P. Section 425.16(e)(2). The Committee was formed pursuant to
this Court's obligation to appoint appropriate committees to review problems
and promote understanding of the administration of justice. California
Rule of Court 205(16). The Komar committee, created in January 1999, conducted
a thorough review of the alleged problems in the Family division of this
Court. The Committee considered, among other things, input from the community
through confidential public input sessions, as the Rule of Court allows.
At the conclusion of its fact-finding investigation, the Komar Committee,
using the detailed factual information gathered over the course of its
one year investigation, published a complete report. This report, "Santa
Clara County Family Court: A Protocol for Change," articulated substantial
modifications in procedures in the administration of the Family Court,
including substantial limitation on the future role of the Plaintiff and
on her work for the Court. (see Declaration of Robin Yeamans, dated June
6, 2000, Exhibit 1.) Therefore, the Komar Committee was an "official
proceeding" as contemplated by C.C.P. Section 425.16(e)(2) and Picton
v. Anderson Union Hight School Dist. (1996) 50Cal.App.4th 726
B. The Plaintiff has Failed to Show that She Will Prevail
on Her Claims.
Defendants having made their prima facie showing, the
burden now shifts to Plaintiff to show that she has a probability of prevailing
on her claims. First, it appears, from the evidence, that the formal complaints
to the APA are the types of petitions contemplated by C.C. Section 43.8.
Although the APA is a voluntary professional organization, its members
agree to be bound to its rules and to its disciplinary procedures. Plaintiff
was, in fact, "educated" after a formal review of the complaints
submitted by the Defendants. Therefore, filing complaints with the APA
is privileged under C.C. Section 43.8
Second, Defendants' other activities, including the January
19, 1999 letter from Defendant Yeamans to the Honorable LaDoris Cordell,
a member of the Komar Committee, appear to have been submitted either for
the Committee's consideration in conjunction with its investigation or
in anticipation there of. The constitutional right to petition includes
the basic act of seeking administrative action. (see: Dove Audio, Inc.
v. Rosenfeld, Meyer & Susman (1996) 47Cal.App.4th 777) (see also: Declaration
of Robin Yeamans, dated June 6, 2000, Exhibit 18) Plaintiff has also failed
to show with reasonable probability that Defendant Yeaman's sent the January
29, 2000 letter to anyone but its intended recipient, Judge Cordell. (see
Declaration of Susan Reid, dated June 19, 2000; see also: Supplemental
Declaration of Robin Yeamans, dated June 22, 2000, and Declaration of Michelle
Dimter, dated June 22, 2000) Since all of Defendants' alleged activities
are privileged, Plaintiff has failed to establish the probability of prevailing
on her claims. Therefore, her complaint against all Defendants is properly
stricken in its entirety as a SLAPP-suit.
C. The Legislative Intent of C.C.P. 425.16 Compels That
This Motion Be Granted.
Lastly, in light of the Legislature's expressed public
policy concerns of protecting first amendment rights,  the Court feels
compelled to step back from the legal elements of this special motion to
strike to see this action for what it truly is.
Plaintiff Johnston, and her associates, served the Court
in various capacities over a number of years. In such a capacity, it is
undisputed that Ms. Johnston, among others, came under serious attack from
a number of dissatisfied litigants, among them, the Defendants to this
action. Since these litigants could not pursue Ms. Johnston civilly for
her alleged wrong-doing, they resorted to the only means available to them,
filing complaints with her professional organization of choice and petitioning
the administrative branch of the Court to review what Defendants perceived
as an untenable situation overall in the Family Division of the Court.
It is in this context that the Presiding Judge formed the Komar Committee,
whose findings undeniably impacted Ms. Johnston's future role with the
Court. It is clearly no coincidence, and despite her own immunity from
civil actions, that Ms. Johnston's filed her complaint less than two weeks
after the Komar Committee issued its final report.
In addition to being a right guaranteed by the Constitution,
it is of utmost importance to the administration of a Court, to allow the
public to freely comment on and/or petition the Court to change a structure
or process under the Court's administrative control. While it is a self-evident
truth that the strongest advocates of change are those who have been wronged
or unjustly burdened by a defect in the system, the right to petition the
administrative arm of the Court should in no way be limited to specific
litigants in their specific case, as the Plaintiff urges. Any person's
right to make such a petition counts among our most precious constitutional
protections, which is why a presiding judge is empowered to create committees
involving the public under CRC 205. Ms. Johnston seeks to punish the Defendants
for their use of their right to petition the Court for change because Defendants'
actions, at least in part, were responsible for the changes imposed on
the Family Court. If the Court were to allow this action to go forward,
it may very well chill future public participation in the Court's system
of self-evaluation and administration, which would in turn jeopardize the
quality of services the Court provides to the Community. The Legislature
stated public policy demand that this action be stricken.
The Court notes that there were multiple objections to
evidence. In ruling on the Special Motion to Strike, the court only considered
competent and admissible evidence.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: October 5, 2000
Conrad L. Rushing Judge of the Superior Court
1 [footnote] The Legislature declared its intent in the
body of the Statute: "to encourage continued participation in matters
of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled
through abuse of the judicial process. To This end, this section shall
be constructed broadly." C.C.P. Section 425.16(a)
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
National Coalition For Family Justice, Inc.