Yesterday, government officials indicated in a phone conference with Cathy Miller’s attorneys that they would likely appeal a Kern County Superior Court ruling in favor of Cathy, a devout Christian and owner of Tastries Bakery in Bakersfield, who declined to design a custom wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. In response to the State’s indication, Charles LiMandri, chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF), filed an anti-SLAPP motion on Cathy’s behalf to dismiss the State’s case. The motion argues that in light of the court’s ruling, the State’s legal action is merely a malicious attempt to crush Cathy’s free speech rights.
Last December, the State’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) demanded that the court force Cathy to either create wedding cakes for same-sex couples or stop creating wedding cakes altogether. On Monday, Judge David Lampe ruled that such an order would “do violence to the essentials of Free Speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.”
As stated in FCDF’s motion:
The Court noted in [its decision] that ‘[t]he State cannot succeed on the facts presented as a matter of law.’ In light of this statement, Defendants informed the DFEH that unless they dismissed their civil action, they would file an anti-SLAPP motion and seek their attorneys’ fees. The DFEH did not budge. As a result, Defendants brought the present anti-SLAPP motion to strike the DFEH’s complaint. The Court should grant the motion, and dismiss this case. This case is a quintessential SLAPP because it was brought to infringe Defendants’ free speech rights, and the DFEH cannot establish a probability of prevailing on the merits as a matter of law.
California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute provides for a special motion to strike a complaint where the case arises from activity exercising free speech rights. The initial benefit of the anti-SLAPP motion is that it will keep the case in Judge Lampe’s court. Otherwise, the DFEH officials would likely refile their complaint in a different court as they continue their administrative investigation. Most importantly, if the court grants Cathy’s anti-SLAPP motion, it will count as a final judgment, and the doctrine of res judicata would prevent the State from launching a new legal attack on Cathy.
Charles LiMandri said:
“The State is more interested in persecuting Cathy than honoring the court’s well-reasoned ruling, so this motion keeps us on the offensive to protect Cathy’s First Amendment rights.”