The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday threw out an order requiring a local attorney who sued the State Bar to pay attorney fees.
The suit by Patricia Barry was properly dismissed, Justice Victoria Chavez wrote, because it challenged a disciplinary stipulation, and lawyer discipline is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. But because the trial court lacked jurisdiction, Chavez explained, it could not award attorney fees under the anti-SLAPP statute.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Deirdre Hill awarded the fees after concluding that the State Bar’s pursuit of lawyer discipline is protected activity for purposes of the statute, and that Barry failed to state a prima facie claim. One of the reasons for the latter holding was that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over State Bar disciplinary matters.
Hill was correct on that point, Chavez said. But because the trial court lacked jurisdiction, its award of more than $2,500 in fees must be reversed, she said.
Because the trial court’s ruling came on an anti-SLAPP motion, and not on a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, Brown v. Desert Christian Center (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 733 does not apply, Chavez reasoned. Brown held that the trial judge, having dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction after having determined that the matter came within the exclusive jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation system, could award costs.
That award, the appellate court held, was incidental to the court’s exercise of its “jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction.”
The stipulation that Barry, 70, sought to overturn was entered into in 2011. According to State Bar records, the attorney was suspended for two years, stayed, and placed on two years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and ordered to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
The State Bar summarized the case on its website as follows;
“Barry stipulated that she pursued cases without merit. She filed a series of lawsuits on behalf of a client that included charges of taking a child from her parents, conspiracy and making a false claim of child abuse and neglect. Barry appealed after most of the claims were dismissed (including an appeal to the Supreme Court). Granting a request by the other side for attorney’s fees after Barry’s petitions were denied, one court called her actions “groundless and vexatious” and said the case ‘was unreasonable, frivolous, meritless.’