Friday, January 06, 2006

Ramona Unified School District v. Tsiknas (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 6, 2006)

Another day of slim pickings: two meaningless orders from the Ninth Circuit -- one a one-paragraph remand on a case back from the Supreme Court and the other a one-paragraph amendment to an earlier opinion -- and only one opinion from the California Court of Appeal.

Fortunately, the latter is somewhat interesting, and worthy of comment. It's a case where the Ramona Unified School District (RUSD) down here in San Diego wanted to build a new school and -- as usual -- various people who lived around the proposed site wanted to block it. Traffic, disrupting their otherwise rural environment, etc. -- the usual NIMBY reasons. So they filed various writ petitions to try to delay or force abandonment of the project. (That's my take, anyway.) All of which they lost.

Now, in a world that makes sense, that'd be the end of it. But the RUSD is upset. So it files an abuse of process suit against the organization and lead principals who tried to delay the project. Leading -- shockingly, I know -- these defendants to file an anti-SLAPP motion. Which they totally -- and rightly -- win, both below and in the Court of Appeal.

Justice McDonald is correct that this is a classic SLAPP suit and that the RUSD can't show an actionable abuse of process. And that's the case even though I agree with the RUSD's allegations that the defendants' conduct may well have been in bad faith. It's still not a tort, and Justice McDonald cogently explains why.

So, in the end, rather than just moving forward and building the school, the RUSD now has to pay the costs and attorneys' fees of the defendants. Resulting in money in the defendants' pockets as well as higher taxes for the citizens of Ramona. Great job, RUSD. Impressive. That's what you get for holding a grudge and filing a classic SLAPP suit. Next time, just let it go.

P.S. - Time for a San Diego Mickey Mouse roll call. One of the two lead players against the project (and hence one of the defendants in the RUSD's suit) was Greg Tsiknas, who describes himself as having an "obsession with horses" -- hopefully in the platonic sense -- and who lives at 1400 Royal Vista Drive and is the CTO of Mil-Pac Technology. The other lead player (and defendant) was Charles Apgar -- no, not that Charles Apgar -- lives around the corner from Greg, at 2445 Boundary Avenue. The third defendant was Julie Hamilton, who was the attorney for the defendants below and who the RUSD personally sued in their SLAPP suit. Julie's a 1998 graduate of USD Law School, and get's her own time paid for by the RUSD as a result of the suit against her. Great job, Julie. And the final San Diego player worth mention is James Moneer, who's a SLAPP specialist retained by the defendants (on a partial contingency fee) to litigate the anti-SLAPP motion. James is also a USD Law graduate. An impressive performance by the USD crowd. By contrast, appellate counsel for the RUSD include Daniel Shinoff (Western State), Jeff Morris (Pepperdine), William Pate (Cal Western), and David Estes (Thomas Jefferson), all of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz. Draw your own conclusions.