The trial court correctly granted an Anti-SLAPP motion against plaintiff’s defamation claim arising from a smear ad run against him by the defendant during a political campaign in which defendant won and plaintiff lost elective office. The ad claimed that court records showed plaintiff was an unscrupulous lawyer, who was a “crook” and had been ordered to pay fees back to an elderly widow. The ad was protected First Amendment activity. Plaintiff could not prove probable merit of his claims. The “unscrupulous” and “crook” remarks were, in the context of a political campaign, statements of opinion and hyperbole. Court records could not establish or disprove lack of scruples; courts judge legal claims, not morals. The gist of the third remark was true. In a case, the court had held on summary judgment that plaintiff’s contingency fee agreement with an elderly widow did not meet B&P Code requirements and so should be rescinded. Plaintiff repaid the fees voluntarily before the court could order him to do so. Plaintiff also could not show actual malice since the ad’s statements were close enough to the truth that defendant could reasonably believe them to be true.
California Court of Appeal, Third District (Renner, J.); June 1, 2016 (published June 29, 2016); 2016 WL 3209664