By Michael Howell
A California Superior Court has awarded Hamilton attorney Robert Myers’ former nanny, Madison Alexander, $100,617.74 in attorney fees and costs after she successfully filed an anti-SLAPP motion in the libel and slander case which Myers and his wife Jennifer Feighner filed against her in July 2016.
Myers and Feighner claim in their lawsuit that Alexander and 100 ‘John Does’ conspired with “malice, oppression and fraud” to defame and libel him in a letter to the editor published in the Bitterroot Star on May, 12, 2016 concerning Myers’ candidacy for the position of District Court Judge.
In the letter, Alexander described her experience working as a nanny for the couple and concluded by stating, “I am writing about all this now because I believe that Rob Myers is the last person who should ever serve as judge in any county.”
Myers and Feighner, in their lawsuit, deny Alexander’s interpretation of events and all of her claims and accuse her of defamation and libel, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, breech of confidential relationship, conspiracy to commit defamation, conspiracy to commit intentional emotional distress, and aiding and abetting.
The California anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) law was enacted by the state legislature almost 20 years ago to protect the petition and free speech rights of all Californians. Amendments have been made since that time to improve the law and provide stronger protection from meritless lawsuits to anyone who is SLAPPed in California. The state’s anti-SLAPP statute provides for a special motion to strike a complaint where the complaint arises from activity exercising the rights of petition and free speech.
According to information from the Digital Media Law Project, a person can use California’s anti-SLAPP statute to counter a SLAPP suit filed against them. The statute allows them to file a special motion to strike a complaint filed against them based on an “act in furtherance of [your] right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue.” If a court rules in the defendant’s favor, it will dismiss the plaintiff’s case early in litigation and award the defendant attorneys’ fees and court costs related to the motion to strike.
In this case the court did not dismiss the entire case but did dismiss 17 of the 19 causes of action that had been filed against Alexander.
“However, a defendant who partially succeeds on an anti-SLAPP motion generally is considered a prevailing party and therefore entitled to fees and costs, unless the results of the motion were so insignificant that the defendant did not achieve any ‘practical benefit’ from bringing the motion.
“The Court concludes that although Defendant was not 100% successful on the underlying motion, she did achieve a ‘practical benefit’ from bringing that motion as it disposed of 90% of Plaintiff’s claims and that ruling was the basis for granting of defendant’s companion motion to require plaintiff Feighner to post an undertaking pursuant to [California law],” stated the Court Order.
In Montana, Myers was recently brought before the Commission on Practice of the Supreme Court in Montana by Deputy Disciplinary Counsel Jon Moog and charged with three instances of professional misconduct mostly having to do with public statements and advertisements Myers ran in his campaign against Judge Jeffrey Langton. Moog recommended that the High Court disbar Myers but no ruling has been made yet. Judge Langton has also filed a criminal complaint against Myers over the election ads that is still under investigation.
In this case, Myers claims that his “free speech” rights allow him to make even false statements about a judicial candidate.
Myers is representing former Ravalli County Treasurer Valerie Stamey in federal court in Montana in her lawsuit against the Bitterroot Star and its publishers Michael and Victoria Howell, in which she alleges they conspired to libel and slander her with malice.
Myers is also representing Stamey in another lawsuit in federal court alleging that over a dozen county officials and employees including former and current county commissioners, the former Sheriff, and the County Attorney, among others, conspired with Bitterroot Star publisher Michael Howell to slander Stamey and destroy her reputation as well.