Michael Schlesinger of Stuck in the Rough (SITR) has agreed to drop a $100 million lawsuit against the Escondido Country Club Homeowners (ECCHO) after he was presented with an anti- SLAPP motion.
SLAPP is an acronym for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” It is a California statute that provides for a special motion to strike a complaint that arises from activity exercising the rights of petition and free speech.
Schlesinger filed the lawsuit against the individual ECCHO board members. On June 13, 2018, SITR dismissed its lawsuit against the ECCHO Board members and soon thereafter deposited over $6,800 into attorney White’s trust account as partial reimbursement of the fees incurred in defense of the SITR lawsuit. Note: White was the attorney representing the ECCHO board members.
On December 14, 2017, ECCHO filed a petition appealing the 3-2 approval by the Escondido City Council of the 380 home Villages development on the 110 acres of the former Escondido Country Club alleging that it represented a violation of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act,) Escondido zoning and Proposition S.
On March 7, 2018, the attorneys for New Urban West, Inc. and the City of Escondido notified ECCHO’s attorney (Everett DeLano) that ECCHO’s legal status had been suspended by the Franchise Tax Board for a failure to file tax returns. This was the first time anyone at ECCHO or its attorney knew of the status suspension. By March 26, 2018, the necessary paperwork had been filed with the FTB and ECCHO’s legal status was restored retroactively to ECCHO’s date of formation in March of 2013.
On March 16, 2018, partner in SITR and attorney for Schlesinger/SITR, Ronald Richards sent each of the ECCHO Board members a letter threatening to sue them individually for civil and criminal claims unless the ECCHO petition appealing approval of the Villages project was immediately dismissed.
According to Ben Gage, managing consultant of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners Organization: “This threatening letter by attorney Richards was an obvious and malicious attempt by Schlesinger/SITR to intimidate the ECCHO Board members and prevent them from exercising ECCHO’s valid right to oppose the improper approval of the Villages project.”
On March 21, 2018, attorney Richards filed a $100 million lawsuit against the five individual ECCHO board members.
The ECCHO Board members engaged the services of Dan White to represent them in the Schlesinger/SITR lawsuit. On May 23, 2018, attorney White served SITR with a lawsuit containing (1) an Anti-SLAPP motion demanding that SITR immediately dismiss its lawsuit against the ECCHO Board members and (2) a demand for recovery of attorney’s fees as authorized by California’s Anti-SLAPP statutes.
June 13, SITR dismissed its lawsuit against the ECCHO Board members and agreed to pay attorney’s fees.
The current status of ECCHO’s case appealing approval of the Villages development is as follows: On June 8 Judge Frazier rejected motions by NUWI and the City to have ECCHO thrown out of court because of the legal status issue.
Attorneys in the case are currently wrangling over what will go into the “administrative record” the judge will review to make his ruling. NUWI and the City want to exclude all documents relating to uses of the ECC property prior to the date NUWI filed their application for the Villages development.
The current trial date is November 9, although that date might be pushed back until after the arguments over the administrative record are concluded.
Since we posted the article we were contacted by attorney Ronald Richards, who provided us with their position on this issue:
“The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice due to the fact that the judge allowed CEQA action to go forward at the demurrer stage. If they lose on that action or in a new motion after the record is completed, the same exposure is there for the ECCHO five plus a malicious prosecution action.
“We felt due to the fact that the judge allowed the related lawsuit to go forward, it was premature to go forward on this action. The dismissal does not preclude a re-filing and the case was not dismissed due to the SLAPP motion but the ruling on the other case.” —Ronald Richards, Esq., Law Offices of Ronald Richards & Associates, A.P.C.”