A King County District Court ruling rising out of the political heat waves surrounding the King County Fire District 28 was reversed by the Superior Court April 9.
King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea Galván reversed a district court decision against Ted DeVol and Michael Qualls and awarding $30,000 in statutory damages to Ted and Beth Fehr and $30,000 to Casey and Angelina Taylor.
The Superior Court decision involves the Washing Act Limiting Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, known as the anti-SLAPP.
Qualls and DeVol filed a petition for a protection order Aug. 26 in King County District Court against the Fehrs and the Taylors.
The Superior Court judge wrote in her ruling, “The Petitioners (Qualls and DeVol) and Appellants (Fehrs and Taylors) are on opposing sides of political issues involving King County Fire District 28 (KCFD 28) and all routinely attend KCFD 28 meetings. All of the incidents alleged by the Petitioners arise out of actions occurring at KCFD 28 meetings or arising out of postings on a Facebook page hosted by Appellant, Angelina Taylor, entitled Citizens for KCFD#28, hereinafter Facebook Page.”
At the Oct. 1 District Court hearing the judge denied the protection orders.
The Superior Court judge wrote the protection orders were denied because, “the court found that the primary issue was constitutionally protected free speech within the meaning of the anti-harassment statute.”
Duncan C. Turner, the attorney for the Taylors and Fehrs, filed the motion in district court asking the court to find the protection orders were in violation of anti-SLAPP state code because the intent of the filing was to impede political participation.
The district court judge denied the anti-SLAPP motion stating the law did not apply because Qualls and DeVol did not seek damages.
Turner, representing the Fehrs and Taylors, filed an appeal of the anti-SLAPP decision by the district court judge.
William A. Keller, representing Qualls and DeVol, filed a cross appeal arguing the anti-SLAPP statute is unconstitutional.
Qualls and DeVol represented themselves at the district court hearing, but hired Keller for the appeal.
Galván reversed the lower court finding awarding $10,000 each to Ted Fehr, Beth Fehr and Angelina Taylor from DeVol.
The judge awarded damages of $10,000 each to Beth Fehr, Casey Taylor and Angelina Taylor against Qualls.
The Superior Court judge ruled that Keller’s argument did not meet the, “burden of establishing that RCW 4.24.525 (anti-SLAPP) is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The judges wrote the anti-SLAPP statute was passed, “… in an effort to prevent retaliatory lawsuits that punish citizens for the legitimate exercise of their right to free speech. Under the anti-SLAPP statute, a party may file a motion to strike any claim based upon action involving public participation and petition.”
The judge found, “… any claim based on any action involving public participation,” including a protection order, is subject to the anti-SLAPP statute.
Galván did not award damages to Casey Taylor from DeVol or Ted Fehr from Qualls.
She wrote the in those two cases the court’s analysis, “… turns on whether viewing the underlying facts, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, in a light most favorable to the Petitioners, there is clear and convincing evidence to support a probability of prevailing on the underlying claim (protection order).” She pointed out that analyzing the evidence in favor of Qualls and DeVol is a standard the “trial court was not required to adopt.”
She ruled viewing the evidence in a most favorable light for Qualls, “there is a probability he would have prevailed in his POP (protection order) in regards to Ted Fehr.”
The judge wrote Qualls alleged during a fire district meeting in 2013, “Ted Fehr threatened Petitioner Qualls by calling him a (s.o.b.) and asking him to go outside to settle the matter.” Qualls also cited a Facebook posting allegedly from Ted Fehr stating, “There is a special place I’d like to send these jokers along with their lies and half-truths about our heroes.” Qualls also cited a lawsuit as harassment that was filed by the Fehrs against the two fire commissioners, Stan McCall and Angela Stubblefield, for violating the Open Public Meetings act.
In regards to Beth Fehr, Casey Taylor and Angelina Taylor, the judge found “… there is no factual basis to find that Petitioner Qualls would have prevailed in his POP.”
She noted the Facebook page statements, are classic examples of political speech contained within a context dedicated to a political purpose: support of KCFD #28.”
Galván made the same ruling regarding Casey Taylor and DeVol, “The physical confrontation with Mr. Taylor, viewed in a light most favorable to Petitioner DeVol, would lead to a probable granting of a POP.”
The judge wrote incident between Taylor and DeVol occurred at a March 2014 fire district meeting, “… wherein Mr. Taylor grabbed Petitioner DeVol’s shirt and in the process caused him pain.”
The denial of the protection order was not reversed by the Superior Court.
In Galván’s analysis of the case she wrote the two side hold opposing political perspectives and “…the Petitioners sought the extraordinary remedy of
prohibiting Appellants from attending KCFD #28 meetings and engaging in the free exercise of their public participation rights. Accordingly, the Appellants have established by a preponderance of the evidence that the underlying claim was based upon action involving public participation and petition.”
The judge reversed the lower court decision and assessed the statutory damages including “reasonable attorney’s costs and fees.”
An appeal of the decision has not been reported at the time of publication.