A tentative ruling issued last Thursday that said Elk Grove community activist Connie Conley was being subjected to a so-called SLAPP lawsuit was affirmed today.
Conley, who was being sued for defamation by Elk Grove resident Brian Detrick, son of Elk Grove City Council Member Steve Detrick, has asserted the action was a strategic lawsuit against public participation, commonly known as SLAPP lawsuit. As the name implies, SLAPP's are used to stymie public participation and are illegal in California.
In today’s ruling, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David Brown said that the two April, 2013 emails from Conley questioning Detrick’s legal status as a commercial fundraiser, the basis of his defamation suit, were matters of public concern. Because of this, Brown wrote that it is unlikely Detrick has a reasonable chance of prevailing on his cause.
Although the preliminary ruling favoring Conley was issued on Thursday, April 10, Detrick’s attorney Daniel Stouder of Boutin Jones, requested oral arguments on Friday, April 11. During that hearing, Stouder argued that Detrick was not engaged as a commercial fundraiser at the time Conley’s emails were sent, and, therefore were not a matter of public interest.
At the April 11 hearing, Brown said he was not inclined to reverse his ruling. With today’s ruling, Brown affirmed that even if Detrick had not been conducting commercial fundraising in 2012 and 2013, he was notified by the State Attorney General’s office that he had to register for 2011 so, therefore, Conley’s assertions were reasonable.
Brown wrote; “Plaintiff was [their emphasis] in violation of state law in 2011, as he was required to register and file annual statements as a commercial fundraiser. The fact that it has not been legally established that he would be required to register in 2012 and 2013, does not make defendant’s [Conley] emails defamatory.”
Conley’s attorney Jeff Kravitz said because Detrick’s lawsuit was determined to be a SLAPP, Brown’s decision ends his case. Under state law, Kravitz said Conley can recover her legal expenses from Detrick.
“The next step is for the filing of my attorney's fee request that Detrick will be obligated to pay,” Kravitz said,
"This is a great victory for the people of Elk Grove and California,” he added. “You just can’t sue people for discussing public issues.”