The Court of Appeal issued a decision yesterday in the Stutz Artiano Shinoff and Holtz v. Maura Larkins defamation case. It upheld the anti-free speech injunction and default entered by Judge Judith Hayes against me in San Diego Superior Court.
Judge Hayes' 2009 injunction in this case was ruled unconstitutional.
So what was different this time?
The only area in which I prevailed in my appeal of was getting the $10,000 punitive damages award thrown out.
The Court didn't have much choice about this. The plaintiff had provided no evidence of my ability to pay.
So, obviously, since the Court of Appeal conclude that my appeal of the unwarranted imposition of punitive sanctions was worthy, there's no way the Court would have ordered me to pay Stutz' costs, right?
WHO PAYS COSTS?
The court has revealed its thinking very clearly in its odd decision to order me to pay Stutz' costs. For perspective, note that the Court of Appeal did NOT order Stutz to pay my costs when I completely prevailed in my request to have Judge Judith Hayes' outrageously unconstitutional December 11, 2009 injunction modification thrown out. Such an order would clearly have been in the interests of justice since one way in which powerful organizations escape legal responsibility is by bankrupting those who challenge them.
The Court apparently feels strongly that blogs like mine that criticize trial courts and attorneys should be silenced. Even though I prevailed in part, the Court ordered me to bear costs!
It's odd--and interesting. The Court appears to be sending a warning to all bloggers who might want to inform the public about the tactics of public entity lawyers--and the judges who go beyond the law to defend them. In fact, the Court of Appeal ruled in 2011 that Judge Judge Hayes had violated the Constitution.
Another odd thing about the decision is that it wasn't sent back to the Superior Court with the direction to issue a new judgment that did not include punitive damages. Instead, the Court of Appeal modified the decision, and then affirmed its own modification. I never heard of such a thing before. It seems that the Court of Appeal didn't want to let Judge Hayes get her hands on the case again for even a brief time. It seems that the Court of Appeal doesn't trust Judge Hayes.
I can't entirely blame the Court of Appeal for taking the side of the big law firm and the wayward judge. I wasn't a good lawyer--because I'm not a lawyer at all. If I had filed more and better oppositions, and earlier and better appeals, I believe the Court of Appeal might have found in my favor.
I should have had a lawyer, but I didn't have the money. I needed not just any lawyer, but one who held a position of respect in the community of judges and lawyers.
In this same case, the Court of Appeal threw out a different injunction of Judge Hayes as unconstitutional. Professor Shaun Martin represented me in that appeal. I wrote the Opening Brief, but I have the feeling that the Court might have ruled differently if Mr. Martin hadn't written the Reply and given the oral arguments.
Also, it probably didn't hurt that Stutz law firm has lots of political connections. One partner held a fundraiser for one of the Superior Court judges running in the recent election.
I imagine I didn't earn any Brownie points from the Court by writing about the actions of Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes.
A STRANGE CASE
This case is strange in that there was no weighing of evidence to determine that I had committed defamation. The judge simply threw out my opposition and all my evidence and granted a summary adjudication to Stutz law firm.
Then the judge proceeded to behave as if there had been an actual finding of defamation, rather than a decision based on a technicality.
The summary adjudication should have been followed by a jury trial for damages. But my requests for that jury trial were ignored or denied and a default was contrived and damages of over $30,000 were granted based on two--yes, you read that correctly: TWO--internet searches for Stutz law firm. Those two searches might have been done by Stutz law firm itself, but they translated into $30,000 in "nominal" damages.
I've erased about four hundred posts from this blog today, and I'll do more erasing as soon as I can. Many of the posts I erased contained only a tangential reference to Stutz law firm. When I have time, I'll find those posts and erase the names of Stutz and/or its lawyers, and republish the post.
It's kind of a good feeling to take these names off my blog. I feel free, light, unburdened. I think I'm going to enjoy not thinking about the lawyers at Stutz.