California Attorney Must Face Defamation Claims

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California Attorney Must Face Defamation Claims

In a pivotal ruling, a California state appeals court has determined that an Orange County attorney must face defamation claims linked to disparaging text messages he sent about a contractor renovating his home. This development emphasizes that litigation privilege does not shield such actions.

California Attorney Must Face Defamation Claims : Text Messages Lead to Defamation Claims

James Godes, a partner at Godes & Preis LLP in Irvine, California, found himself entangled in legal strife after sending a series of critical text messages to a real estate agent. These messages targeted David Raine, the contractor working on his home, accusing him of poor workmanship and unethical behavior. This exchange not only soured their professional relationship but also set the stage for a courtroom battle.

California Attorney Must Face Defamation Claims : From Accusations to Courtroom

The conflict escalated when Raine responded to Godes’ lawsuit with a countersuit, alleging that the texts constituted defamation and aimed to harm his business reputation. Godes attempted to dismiss the defamation claims by invoking the anti-SLAPP statute, arguing that his texts were protected as pre-litigation statements. However, the appellate court’s scrutiny revealed that the texts did not pertain directly to any litigation and were extraneous, thus stripping them of any protective shield typically afforded by litigation privilege.

Court’s Opinion: Texts Not Related to Litigation

The court highlighted that Godes’ text messages, filled with derogatory remarks about Raine’s integrity and professionalism, did not bear a substantial connection to any anticipated litigation. “The disparaging comments were not an essential part of any legal strategy but were instead outside the bounds of legal protection,” the justices noted, referencing the 1990 Silberg decision by the state Supreme Court.

California Attorney Must Face Defamation Claims : Implications of the Ruling

This ruling underscores the limitations of litigation privilege and serves as a cautionary tale for professionals who might consider leveraging legal protections to shield improper communications. The decision not only reaffirms the boundaries of legal communication but also highlights the serious implications of defamation within professional disputes.