Judge Boots Suit Against|L.A. City Attorney-Elect

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Superior Court judge threw out “politically motivated” claims that City Attorney-elect Mike Feuer violated campaign finance rules by delaying payment to a consultant so he could get matching public funds.
     Laura Lake filed a 36-count complaint against Feuer and his campaign in March. Lake supported Feuer’s opponent, incumbent Carmen Trutanich, the L.A. Times reported at the time.
     One barb of her complaint claimed Feuer entered into a deferred compensation arrangement with John Shallman and Shallman Communications. Instead of paying a monthly consulting fee, Feuer allegedly paid just $1, with the eventual fee contingent on his winning the May election.
     He whomped Trutanich on May 21, by 62 percent to 38 percent of the vote.
     “This arrangement allegedly enabled Feuer to claim that his campaign expenditures were under the $1.259 million expenditure limit in the City’s ‘public matching funds’ program, and therefore entitled him to receive, and he did receive, $300,000 in public funds,” Judge Richard Rico wrote in his tentative ruling. “After being one of the top two finishers in the primary and becoming a candidate in the general election, Feuer received another $350,000 in public funds.”
     Feuer and Shallman both filed motions to strike Lake’s complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) law, claiming the lawsuit tried to chill political speech.
     Judge Rico granted those motions. Feuer and Shallman made clear the “conduct at issue is protected activity,” the judge wrote.
     “The gravamen of plaintiff’s claim is that Feuer was able to ‘spend money on voter contact’ that plaintiff claims would have put him over the campaign spending limits. Whether true or not, this claim is clearly designed to impinge on political speech. After all, plaintiff is trying to prevent defendant from engaging in political speech while engaged in the ultimate political act of running for public office. Suits to chill this conduct are precisely the type of suits the Anti-SLAPP statute is designed to cover,” Rico wrote.
     Rico found that at its root the complaint was about “use of money to direct ‘electioneering communication.'”
     “Plaintiff ignores the fact that it is her desire to quell such speech on the grounds that Feuer used money for political speech which she claims should not have been available to him,” Rico wrote.
     He found that Lake’s claims did not survive under a public interest exemption of anti-SLAPP law.
     He judge rejected the claim that an email ad depicting an image of a sample ballot, with a vote for Feuer, violated ethics rules by failing to include a “‘paid for by'” disclaimer.
     Rico found municipal election rules did not apply to the email ad because there was no danger voters would mistake the email ballot for an official one.
     “(I)t does not appear that the ’email flyer containing an image of the sample ballot’ (as alleged in the complaint itself) is the actual sample ballot,” the judge wrote.
     Rico said Lake “failed to demonstrate her probability of success” on other claims, some of which were “flat out meritless.”
     Criminal claims of perjury, “a call for Feuer’s ‘removal from office’,” and a request for Feuer to give up matching funds are “outside the scope of this court’s jurisdiction,” Rico wrote.
     “It is difficult for the court to come to any other conclusion than that proposed by the defendants, this complaint is merely a politically motivated complaint meant to chill the political speech of a political rival,” Rico wrote.
     Lake told the Times that Rico’s ruling would suppress whistleblowers. She said she would appeal.
     “We think the judge made a mistake,” Lake told the Times. “This wasn’t about a campaign but about enforcing spending limits.”

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