MARTINEZ, Calif. – A superior court judge ruled last week to strike down a lawsuit against the “Friends of Pine Meadow,” citing the group’s rights of petition and free speech protect them under the law.
The suit was filed April 4 on behalf of private property owners Christine Dean, Denova Homes Inc., and Civic Martinez LLC against the “Friends” group, which includes Tim Platt, Mark Thomson, Julian Frazier, Kelly Calhoun and Mike Benson. The suit alleged the “Friends” intentionally interfered with prospective economic advantage of the property owners by stalling the sale or development of the former Pine Meadow Golf Course, and also alleged defamation and conspiracy had been committed against the property owners.
The Friends group, whose stated goal is to purchase the private property at 451 Vine Hill Way – purportedly for the intention of retaining it as Open Space – has actively been fundraising, petitioning and lobbying for public support.
The “Friends” replied to the suit with a motion to strike under an anti-SLAPP statute (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), stating the suit was “without merit” and an “attack on Freedom of Speech rights in Martinez. The Honorable Judy Craddick agreed, to a point, saying the Friends’ right of petition and free speech in connection with the public issue protected them in this case.
Craddick ruled that while the property owners may have been victims of defamation, defamatory speech is protected speech, and that unprotected speech such as “illegal” or criminal speech had not been aimed at the land owners.
Allegations by the property owners that the “Friends” were competitors in the acquiring of the property was also struck down, with Judge Craddick citing the burden of proof was not met.
The owners of Pine Meadow were ordered to pay attorney fees for defendant Kelly Calhoun to the tune of $10,495, the amount of reasonable costs and attorney’s fees “based on a reasonable rate for an experienced attorney in Contra Costa County for this type of case ($400 per hour) and a reasonable number of hours (25),” according to the ruling.
Requests for comment from the property owners were not returned by Tribune deadline.