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New Cases of Interest - August 6, 2013
Burrill v. Nair (2013) 217 Cal. App. 4th 357. A family law reunification counselor sued a parent for defamation, and the trial court denied the parent's SLAPP motion. The counselor alleged the parent had falsely accused the counselor of criminal actions in connection with child custody proceedings. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the counselor had shown a probability of prevailing on the action because the parent's accusations of crime were defamatory per se and were specific enough that they couldn't simply be disregarded as hyperbole. The parents anger and hostility and motive to harm the counselor's reputation also supported an inference of actual malice. The statements were not privileged. The Court of Appeal therefore found the SLAPP motion had been properly denied.
Interstate Specialty Marketing, Inc. v. ICRA Sapphire, Inc. (2013) 217 Cal. App. 4th 708. This is a case involving court imposed sanctions against an attorney based on the attorney's slowness in getting the correct contract being sued on attached to a verified complaint. The Court of Appeal reversed the sanction award finding that while counsel's failure to act wasted time and caused an unnecessary hearing, the trial court turned to the sanctions remedy too quickly. The safe harbor provisions the court found had been violated because the order to show cause had been set and sanctions imposed after counsel had moved to file the amended complaint to provide the correct contract. The 21 day correction period in the pleading ran from the service of the order to show cause, not from the filing of a motion for summary judgment which was also pending. Counsel's slowness in correcting the draft of the contract was also not the type of dereliction that merited sanctions because there was no evidence of bad faith and the underlying suit itself was legitimate supported by ample evidentiary support. Finally, the court had set the order to show cause on its own motion and the court did not have the authority to order that the resulting sanctions be paid to the Defendant.