Superior Court Judge Mark Pierce has found in favor of Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor in a lawsuit filed against her by Santa Clara University Law School student Brian Exline alleging that Gillmor violated California’s public disclosure laws by not reporting her interest in a Gillmor family business from which she received income, Public Property Advisors, Inc. (PPA) from 2011 through 2016.
In a tentative ruling [exline gillmor tentative ruling] published April 9, Judge Pierce granted Gillmor’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — motion to strike the complaint. He awarded Gillmor $7,960 in attorney fees and costs.
The judge found that Form 700s — public officials’ reports of financial interests — are protected speech and thus protected by California’s anti-SLAPP statute. He also found that Exline didn’t prove that Gillmor’s failure to report her PPA business interest was illegal or that his lawsuit was a public interest action; both of which would preclude an anti-SLAPP motion.
Although the judge found that public officials’ financial interest reports were protected political expression, he dismissed as irrelevant Gillmor’s theory that Exline’s lawsuit was part of a pervasive conspiracy against her by the San Francisco 49ers.
“Plaintiff’s purported motivation for filing the complaint has no bearing on the material issues before the Court,” Judge Pierce wrote. The Court, he continued, could “not discern” how newspaper articles published in the Silicon Valley Business Journal and The Santa Clara Weekly, submitted by Gillmor in evidence, would “be relevant to …the motion to strike [the case].”
Orders to grant or deny anti-SLAPP motions are immediately appealable.
Neither party responded to requests from The Santa Clara Weekly for comment.
Form 700s “Political Speech,” Says Judge
The finding that Form 700s are political speech is a first, as the judge acknowledged.
“No court has addressed whether exception for political works set forth in Code of Civil Procedure … applies to actions against individuals who file Form 700 disclosures.
“The word “political” is typically understood to mean …of, relating to, or involving the activity or profession of engaging in political affairs,” Pierce wrote. “The word ‘work,’ as ordinarily understood, means ‘something produced or accomplished by effort, exertion, or exercise of skill,’ or ‘something produced by the exercise of creative talent or expenditure of creative effort.’”