This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 08/15/2019 at 00:06:01 (UTC).

DEBRA LOUISE ET AL VS CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY ET AL

Case Summary

On 10/10/2017 DEBRA LOUISE filed a Property - Other Property Fraud lawsuit against CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judge overseeing this case is ROBERT B. BROADBELT. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.
Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****8951

  • Filing Date:

    10/10/2017

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Property - Other Property Fraud

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judge

ROBERT B. BROADBELT

 

Party Details

Plaintiffs

ROMERO CRISTINA

LOUISE DEBRA

MERRITT LYNETTE

ROBISON SHAWN

Defendants

NATIONAL PETITION MANANGEMENT INC

KIM YOUNG

HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION

CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY

CHOI LINETTE

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff Attorney

SHENKMAN KEVIN ISAAC ESQ.

Defendant Attorney

BITTLE TIMOTHY ARTHUR ESQ.

 

Court Documents

Request for Dismissal

7/18/2019: Request for Dismissal

Case Management Statement

7/25/2019: Case Management Statement

Proof of Service by Mail

7/25/2019: Proof of Service by Mail

Notice of Intent to Appear by Telephone

7/25/2019: Notice of Intent to Appear by Telephone

Case Management Statement

8/8/2019: Case Management Statement

Minute Order

8/13/2019: Minute Order

Proof of Service by Mail

1/3/2019: Proof of Service by Mail

Proof of Service by Mail

1/3/2019: Proof of Service by Mail

Minute Order

11/28/2018: Minute Order

Case Management Statement

12/14/2018: Case Management Statement

Notice

11/27/2018: Notice

Case Management Statement

12/14/2018: Case Management Statement

Minute Order

12/19/2018: Minute Order

NOTICE OF CASE REASSIGNMENT AND OF ORDER FOR PLAINTIFF TO GIVE NOTICE

9/4/2018: NOTICE OF CASE REASSIGNMENT AND OF ORDER FOR PLAINTIFF TO GIVE NOTICE

REQUEST FOR DISMISSAL

12/21/2017: REQUEST FOR DISMISSAL

SUBSTITUTION OF ATTORNEY

1/12/2018: SUBSTITUTION OF ATTORNEY

POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN SUPPORT OF DEFENDANT HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION'S MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT UNDER CCP 425.16

1/16/2018: POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN SUPPORT OF DEFENDANT HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION'S MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT UNDER CCP 425.16

NOTICE OF HEARING AND MOTION BY DEFENDANT HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT UNDER CCP 425.16

1/16/2018: NOTICE OF HEARING AND MOTION BY DEFENDANT HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT UNDER CCP 425.16

55 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 12/03/2019
  • Hearingat 08:30 AM in Department 53 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Case Management Conference

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  • 12/03/2019
  • Hearingat 08:30 AM in Department 53 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Status Conference

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  • 08/13/2019
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 53, Robert B. Broadbelt, Presiding; Case Management Conference - Held - Continued

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  • 08/13/2019
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 53, Robert B. Broadbelt, Presiding; Order to Show Cause Re: Failure to File Proof of Service ((on California Republican Party)) - Not Held - Vacated by Court

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  • 08/13/2019
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 53, Robert B. Broadbelt, Presiding; Status Conference (reAppeal) - Held - Continued

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  • 08/13/2019
  • DocketMinute Order ( (Case Management Conference; Order to Show Cause Re: Failure t...)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 08/08/2019
  • DocketCase Management Statement; Filed by Kevin Isaac Shenkman, Esq. (Attorney); DEBRA LOUISE (Plaintiff); LYNETTE MERRITT (Plaintiff) et al.

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  • 07/25/2019
  • DocketProof of Service by Mail; Filed by HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION (Defendant)

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  • 07/25/2019
  • DocketCase Management Statement; Filed by HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION (Defendant)

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  • 07/25/2019
  • DocketNotice of Intent to Appear by Telephone; Filed by HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION (Defendant)

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116 More Docket Entries
  • 12/21/2017
  • DocketProof of Service (not Summons and Complaint)

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  • 12/15/2017
  • DocketDEFENDANT HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION'S ANSWER TO PLAINTIFFS' UNVERIFIED COMPLAINT FOR FRAUD

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  • 12/15/2017
  • DocketAnswer; Filed by HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION (Defendant)

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  • 10/24/2017
  • DocketNOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

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  • 10/24/2017
  • DocketORDER TO SHOW CAUSE HEARING

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  • 10/24/2017
  • DocketNotice of Case Management Conference; Filed by Clerk

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  • 10/24/2017
  • DocketOSC-Failure to File Proof of Serv; Filed by Clerk

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  • 10/10/2017
  • DocketCOMPLAINT FOR FRAUD

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  • 10/10/2017
  • DocketComplaint; Filed by DEBRA LOUISE (Plaintiff); LYNETTE MERRITT (Plaintiff); SHAWN ROBISON (Plaintiff) et al.

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  • 10/10/2017
  • DocketSUMMONS

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: ****8951 Hearing Date: August 25, 2022 Dept: 53

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles – Central District

Department 53

debra louise, et al;

Plaintiffs,

vs.

CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY , et al.;

Defendants.

Case No.:

****8951

Hearing Date:

August 25, 2022

Time:

10:00 a.m.

[Tentative] Order RE:

motion to be relieved as counsel for plaintiffs

MOVING PARTY: Kevin Shenkman, Shenkman & Hughes PC

RESPONDING PARTY: n/a

Motion to be Relieved as Counsel for Plaintiffs

The court considered the moving papers filed in connection with this motion. No opposition papers were filed.

DISCUSSION

Kevin Shenkman and Shenkman & Hughes PC (“Plaintiffs’ Counsel”) move to be relieved as counsel of record for plaintiffs Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynnette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robison (“Plaintiffs”).

“The question of granting or denying an application of an attorney to withdraw as counsel (Code Civ. Proc., 284, subd. 2) is one which lies within the sound discretion of the trial court ‘having in mind whether such withdrawal might work an injustice in the handling of the case.’” (People v. Prince (1968) 268 Cal.App.2d 398, 406 [internal quotations omitted].) The court should also consider whether the attorney’s “withdrawal can be accomplished without undue prejudice to the client’s interests.” (Ramirez v. Sturdevant (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 904, 915.)

For a motion to be relieved as counsel under Code of Civil Procedure section 284, subdivision (2), California Rules of Court, rule 3.1362 requires (1) a notice of motion and motion directed to the client (made on the Notice of Motion and Motion to be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil form (MC-051)); (2) a declaration stating in general terms and without compromising the confidentiality of the attorney-client relationship why a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 284, subdivision (2) is brought instead of filing a consent under Code of Civil Procedure section 284, subdivision (1) (made on the Declaration in Support of Attorney’s Motion to Be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil form (MC-052)); (3) service of the notice of motion and motion, declaration, and proposed order on the client and on all other parties who have appeared in the case; and (4) the proposed order relieving counsel (prepared on the Order Granting Attorney’s Motion to Be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil form (MC-053)).

The court finds that Plaintiffs’ Counsel has served Plaintiffs by mail at their respective addresses, which Plaintiffs’ Counsel has been unable to confirm as current but has made reasonable efforts to do so. (Cal. Rules of Ct., rule 3.1362, subd. (d)(1)(B).) The court therefore finds that Plaintiffs’ Counsel has submitted declarations establishing that Plaintiffs’ Counsel has substantially complied with the service requirements of California Rules of Court, rule 3.1362. The court also finds that Plaintiffs’ Counsel has shown sufficient reasons why the motion to be relieved as counsel should be granted, and why counsel has brought the motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 284, subdivision (2) instead of filing a consent under section 284, subdivision (1).

The court therefore grants Plaintiffs’ Counsel’s motion to be relieved as counsel for Plaintiffs.

Kevin Shenkman and Shenkman & Hughes PC will be relieved as counsel of record for plaintiffs Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynnette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robison, effective upon the filing of the proof of service of the signed “Order Granting Attorney’s Motion to be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil” on the clients.

The court orders Plaintiffs’ Counsel to give notice of this ruling and the “Order Granting Attorney’s Motion to be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil” to plaintiffs Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynnette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robison, and to all other parties who have appeared in this action.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: August 25, 2022

Robert B. Broadbelt III

Judge of the Superior Court



Case Number: ****8951 Hearing Date: February 10, 2022 Dept: 53

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles – Central District

Department 53

debra louise , et al.;

Plaintiff,

vs.

california republican party. , et al.,

Defendants.

Case No.:

****8951

Hearing Date:

February 10, 2022

Time:

10:00 a.m.

[Tentative] Order RE:

Motion to be relieved as counsel

MOVING PARTY: Shenkman & Hughes PC

RESPONDING PARTY: None

Motion to be Relieved as Counsel

The court considered the moving papers.

DISCUSSION

Shenkman & Hughes PC (“Plaintiffs’ Counsel”) moves to be relieved as counsel of record for Plaintiffs Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robinson.

“The question of granting or denying an application of an attorney to withdraw as counsel (Code Civ. Proc., 284, subd. (2)) is one which lies within the sound discretion of the trial court ‘having in mind whether such withdrawal might work an injustice in the handling of the case.’” (People v. Prince (1968) 268 Cal.App.2d 398, 406 [internal quotations omitted].) The court should also consider whether the attorney’s “withdrawal can be accomplished without undue prejudice to the client’s interests.” (Ramirez v. Sturdevant (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 904, 915.)

For a motion to be relieved as counsel under Code of Civil Procedure section 284, subdivision (2), California Rules of Court, rule 3.1362 requires (1) a notice of motion and motion directed to the client (made on the Notice of Motion and Motion to be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil form (MC-051)); (2) a declaration stating in general terms and without compromising the confidentiality of the attorney-client relationship why a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 284(2) is brought instead of filing a consent under Code of Civil Procedure section 284(1) (made on the Declaration in Support of Attorney’s Motion to Be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil form (MC-052)); (3) service of the notice of motion and motion, declaration, and proposed order on the client and on all other parties who have appeared in the case; and (4) the proposed order relieving counsel (prepared on the Order Granting Attorney’s Motion to be Relieved as Counsel -- Civil form (MC-053)).

Here, the court finds that Plaintiffs’ Counsel has complied with the applicable rules and provided sufficient grounds for granting the relief requested as to its motion to be relieved as counsel of record for Plaintiffs Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robinson.

The proposed “Order Granting Attorney’s Motion to be Relieved as Counsel – Civil” (Judicial Council form MC-053), which Plaintiffs’ Counsel lodged with the court on January 13, 2022, is incomplete because it does not provide the information required in section 6 (the client’s current or last known telephone number). The court will require Plaintiffs’ Counsel to provide that information to the court at the hearing on this motion.

The court grants Shenkman & Hughes PC’s motion to be relieved as counsel for Plaintiffs Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robinson. Shenkman & Hughes PC will be relieved as counsel of record for Plaintiffs, Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robinson effective upon the filing of the proof of service of the signed “Order Granting Attorney’s Motion to be Relieved as Counsel – Civil”.

Shenkman & Hughes PC’s are ordered to give notice of this ruling and the “Order Granting Attorney’s Motion to be Relieved as Counsel – Civil” to Plaintiffs, Debra Louise Cembrano, Lynette Merritt, Cristina Romero, and Shawn Robinson and all parties to this action.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: February 10, 2022

Robert B. Broadbelt III

Judge of the Superior Court



Case Number: ****8951    Hearing Date: November 03, 2020    Dept: 53

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles – Central District

Department 53

debra louise , et al.;

Plaintiffs,

vs.

california republican party , et al.,

Defendants.

Case No.:

****8951

Hearing Date:

November 3, 2020

Time:

10:00 a.m.

[Tentative] Order RE:

Motion for attorney fees

MOVING PARTY: Defendant Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

RESPONDING PARTIES: Plaintiffs Debra Louise, Lynette Merritt, Shawn Robison, and Cristina Romero

Motion for Attorney Fees

The court considered the moving and opposition papers.

On January 6, 2020, Plaintiffs filed an objection to Defendant’s reply brief, filed January 2, 2020 in support of Defendant’s motion, on the ground that the reply brief exceeded the 10-page limit set forth in California Rules of Court, rule 3.1113(d). On January 9, 2020, Defendant filed an ex parte application in which Defendant conceded that the reply brief exceeded the 10-page limit, but requested the court to accept and consider the reply brief. On January 13, 2020, the court issued an order denying Defendant’s ex parte application, but granted Defendant leave to file and serve an amended reply brief in support of its motion that does not exceed the 10-page limit. On January 17, 2020, Defendant filed an amended reply brief in support of its motion. The court considered the amended reply brief.

Background

Plaintiffs Debra Louise, Lynette Merritt, Shawn Robison, and Cristina Romero (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed this action on October 10, 2017, against defendants California Republican Party, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, National Petition Management, Inc., Linette Choi, and Young Kim.

On March 12, 2018, the court issued an order denying the special motion by defendant Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (“HJTA”) to strike Plaintiffs’ operative Complaint pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16.

On July 15, 2019, the Court of Appeal issued its Opinion which reversed the trial court’s order denying HJTA’s special motion to strike and remanded the case with directions to grant HJTA’s motion and to dismiss the action as to HJTA.

HJTA now moves for attorney’s fees as the prevailing defendant on the special motion to strike, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, subdivision (c)(1). Plaintiffs oppose the motion.

DISCUSSION

Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, subdivision (c)(1), provides that “a prevailing defendant on a special motion to strike shall be entitled to recover his or her attorney’s fees and costs.” “Thus, under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, subdivision (c), any SLAPP defendant who brings a successful motion to strike is entitled to mandatory attorney fees.” (Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1131.) An award of attorney’s fees may also include “the fees incurred in enforcing the right to mandatory fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16.” (Id. at p. 1141.) “It is well established that ‘[t]he amount of an attorney fee award under the anti-SLAPP statute is computed by the trial court in accordance with the familiar “lodestar” method. Under that method, the court “tabulates the attorney fee touchstone, or lodestar, by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rate prevailing in the community for similar work.”’” (569 East County Boulevard LLC v. Backcountry Against the Dump, Inc. (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 426, 432 [citations omitted].)

With regard to the number of hours reasonably expended, “the verified time statements of the attorneys, as officers of the court, are entitled to credence in the absence of a clear indication the records are erroneous.” (Horsford v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 359, 396.) In determining the reasonable hourly rate, the “burden is on the successful party to prove the appropriate market rate to be used in calculating the lodestar.” (MBNA America Bank, N.A. v. Gorman (2006) 147 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, 13.) The trial court may reduce the award where the fee request appears unreasonably inflated, such as where the attorneys’ efforts are unorganized or duplicative. (Serrano v. Unruh (1982) 32 Cal.3d 621, 635, fn. 21.)

HJTA seeks an award of $212,345 in attorney’s fees. To establish the reasonable amount of fees incurred by HJTA in making its special motion to strike, successfully appealing the motion’s denial, and bringing this motion for attorney’s fees, HJTA submits the declarations of its counsel, Timothy Bittle and Jon Coupal. HJTA also submits the Declaration of Eric Miethke, the Declaration of Tony Tanke, and the Declaration of Brian Hildreth.

Mr. Bittle attaches billing statements to his declaration, which show that he billed a total of 273.15 hours in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike, the appeal, and this motion for attorney’s fees. (Bittle Decl., filed December 11, 2019, Ex. 1.) Mr. Bittle also estimates spending an additional 18 hours to draft a reply, and travel to and appear at the hearing on this motion. Mr. Bittle attests to his qualifications, skills, and experience. (Bittle Decl., pp. 2-3.) Mr. Bittle’s requested hourly rate is $700 per hour.

Although Mr. Coupal does not attach any billing statement to his declaration, he testifies to the amount of time billed for various tasks he performed in helping prepare HJTA’s special motion to strike and appellate briefs. (See Steiny & Co., Inc. v. California Electric Supply Co. (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 285, 293 [“there is no legal requirement that [billing statements] be offered in evidence” to support a motion for attorney’s fees].) However, as Plaintiffs point out in their opposition, Mr. Coupal does not attest to his qualifications, skills, or experience to support the $700 hourly rate requested by HJTA for Mr. Coupal’s work in this case. HJTA submits the declarations of Mr. Miethke, Mr. Tanke, and Mr. Hildreth, in which each states that the $700 hourly rate is the prevailing rate in the Sacramento area for this type of case and is the reasonable hourly rate for Mr. Coupal’s work in this case. However, the court notes the following. First, Los Angeles County is the relevant community for purposes of this motion. “The determination of the ‘market rate’ is generally based on the rates prevalent in the community where the court is located.” (Syers Properties III, Inc. v. Rankin (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 691, 700 (internal quotations and citations omitted) (emphasis added).) Second, the declarations of Mr. Miethke, Mr. Tanke, and Mr. Hildreth do not provide adequate explanations of the basis for each declarant’s opinion that $700 per hour is reasonable for Mr. Coupal’s work because none of the declarations states facts regarding Mr. Coupal’s qualifications, skills, or experience to support their opinions.

The court relies on its own knowledge and familiarity with the legal market in Los Angeles County to determine the reasonable hourly rates for each of HJTA’s attorneys. “The courts repeatedly have stated that the trial court is in the best position to value the services rendered by the attorneys in his or her courtroom, and this includes the determination of the hourly rate that will be used in the lodestar calculus.” (569 East County Boulevard LLC v. Backcountry Against the Dump, Inc. (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 426, 436-437 [internal citations omitted].) “In making its calculation, the court may rely on its own knowledge and familiarity with the legal market, as well as the experience, skill, and reputation of the attorney requesting fees . . . .” (Id. at p. 437.) “There is no requirement that the reasonable market rate mirror the actual rate billed.” (Syers Properties III, Inc., supra, 226 Cal.App.4th 691 at p. 701.) The court finds that, based on his qualifications, skills, and experience, Mr. Bittle’s reasonable hourly rate for his work performed on this case is $700 per hour. The court also finds that, based on the complexity of the legal issues presented in this case and the work performed by Mr. Coupal on this case, Mr. Coupal’s reasonable hourly rate for his work performed on this case is $500 per hour.

Plaintiffs object to the number of hours expended by HJTA’s attorneys on a number of grounds.

First, Plaintiffs object to several time entries that they contend were not related to the HJTA’s special motion to strike. The attorney’s fee provision under the anti-SLAPP statute “applies only to the motion to strike, and not to the entire action.” (S.B. Beach Properties v. Berti (2006) 39 Cal.4th 374, 381.) Plaintiffs contend that HJTA seeks fees for tasks not associated with HJTA’s special motion to strike, including (1) Mr. Coupal’s fees for correspondence and conference calls “re self-representation” and “re continued self-representation,” totaling 0.66 hours (Coupal Decl., p. 2:16, 2:26), (2) Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Review Hildreth letter” on November 29, 2017, totaling 0.5 hours, (3) Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Answer discovery” on January 2, 2018, for an unstated number of hours, (4) Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Prep ex parte” on February 13, 2018, which are included in Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Call from J&J, Read Tentative; Call/email Shenkman; Fly to L.A., Prep 4 hrg” totaling 9.4 hours, (5) Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Answer Amended Complaint” on April 16, 2018, totaling 0.75 hours, (6) Mr. Bittle’s fees for various tasks associated with preparing a proposed judgment on October 30, November 6, November 18, and December 3, 2019, and (7) Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Prep & attend CMC by phone; revise Proposed Judgment” on December 3, 2019, totaling 0.25 hours (Bittle Decl., filed December 11, 2019, Ex. 1).

In reply, HJTA states that any entry in the billing statement attached to Mr. Bittle’s declaration that does not state a number of hours (i.e., Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Answer discovery” on January 2, 2018) was not billed and is not included in HJTA’s request for attorney’s fees on this motion. (Amended Reply, filed January 17, 2020, p. 4:4-10.)

With regard to Mr. Coupal’s billing entries related to Mr. Coupal’s self-representation (0.66 hours), and to Mr. Bittle’s billing entry for “Review Hildreth letter” on November 29, 2017 (0.5 hours), HJTA states that those entries are related to the special motion to strike because those entries are for time spent deciding whether to hire outside counsel, who would have been “Hildreth,” to bring the special motion to strike. HJTA also states that Hildreth’s letter laid out the basic theory of HJTA’s special motion to strike and saved Mr. Bittle hours of legal research. (Amended Reply, p. 4:15-26; Bittle Decl., filed January 2, 2020, p. 2:6-15.) The court finds that Mr. Coupal’s billing entries related to Mr. Coupal’s self-representation (0.66 hours) and Mr. Bittle’s billing entry for “Review Hildreth letter” on November 29, 2017 (0.5 hours) are reasonable fees that were incurred in making HJTA’s special motion to strike and that HJTA is entitled to recover these fees.

With regard to Mr. Bittle’s time entries for “Prep ex parte” on February 13, 2018, which are included in Mr. Bittle’s entries for various other tasks on the same day (9.4 hours), HJTA states that the preparation for the ex parte application was related to the special motion to strike because HJTA hired an attorney service to hand-file HJTA’s reply papers in support of its special motion to strike, but the attorney service failed to file the reply papers and HJTA consequently filed an ex parte application for leave to file a late reply. (Amended Reply, p. 5:5-11.) The court finds that the fees incurred for preparing the ex parte application were reasonably incurred in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike and that HJTA is not entitled to recover those fees.

As Plaintiffs point out in their opposition, Mr. Bittle’s February 13, 2018 billing entry “block-bills” several entries together (“Call from J&J, Read Tentative; Call/email Shenkman; Fly to L.A., Prep 4 hrg.; Prep ex parte”) for a total of 9.4 hours. Even with the times entered on the left columns of Mr. Bittle’s billing statement, the court is unable to discern the time spent preparing for the ex parte application. The court therefore finds that the fees incurred for work performed by Mr. Bittle on February 13, 2018, were not reasonably incurred in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike and that HJTA is not entitled to recover these fees (9.4 hours). (See Bell v. Vista Unified School Dist. (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 672, 689 [“As to the submitted billing . . . the blocked-billing entries render it virtually impossible to break down hours on a task-by-task basis . . . . If counsel cannot further define his billing entries so as to meaningfully enlighten the court . . . then the trial court should exercise its discretion in assigning a reasonable percentage to the entries, or simply cast them aside.”].)

With regard to Mr. Bittle’s fees for “Answer Amended Complaint” on April 16, 2018, totaling 0.75 hours, the court finds that they were not reasonably incurred in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike and that HJTA is not entitled to recover these fees (0.75 hours).

With regard to Mr. Bittle’s fees for various tasks associated with preparing a proposed judgment on October 30 (2 hours and 25 minutes), November 6 (1 hour and 10 minutes), November 18 (2 hours and 40 minutes), and December 3, 2019 (15 minutes) (totaling 6.5 hours), Plaintiffs contend that these fees were not reasonably incurred because the time spent was excessive. On reply, HJTA argues that the time spent preparing the proposed judgment was reasonable because the proposed judgment required legal research on whether the granting of a special motion to strike actually produces a “judgment,” whether the proposed judgment would procedurally foreclose the option to bring in a new party to the action in the future, and whether the proposed judgment would waive HJTA’s right to attorney’s fees. The court finds that Mr. Bittle’s fees for preparing a proposed judgment were reasonably incurred in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike and that HJTA is entitled to recover these fees. However, the court exercises its discretion to reduce the number of hours billed for tasks associated with preparing the proposed judgment from 6.5 hours to 3 hours (reduced by 3.5 hours).

Second, Plaintiffs contend that many of the billing entries submitted by HJTA fail to provide any detail that would allow Plaintiffs or the court to determine whether the time spent was reasonable. Plaintiffs point to Mr. Bittle’s fees incurred between November 6, 2018 and November 29, 2018 for “Cont. Reply,” totaling 39.4 hours, for which the billing statement states “Cont. Reply” only for November 6, 2018, and then a series of ditto marks up to November 29, 2018. (Bittle Decl., filed December 11, 2019, Ex. 1.) However, the court finds that Mr. Bittle’s fees incurred in connection with HJTA’s appellate reply brief, presumably for researching and drafting the appellate reply brief, were reasonably incurred in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike and that HJTA is entitled to recover these fees.

Third, Plaintiffs object to Mr. Bittle’s billing entry for “Oral Arg. Date; email/calls to Shenkman” on April 9, 2019, totaling 3 hours and five minutes. In reply, HJTA states that scheduling the oral argument date and emailing/calling Mr. Shenkman took 3 hours because Mr. Bittle needed to re-read the appellate briefs and re-examine the strength of Plaintiffs’ case, and Mr. Bittle made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Mr. Shenkman in order to see if he would either waive oral argument or postpone the argument. The court finds that these fees were not reasonably incurred, and exercises its discretion to reduce the number of hours billed on April 9, 2019 from 3 hours to 0.5 hours (reduced by 2.5 hours).

Fourth, Plaintiffs object to HJTA’s fees incurred for travel time from Sacramento to Los Angeles. HJTA does not address Plaintiff’s objection on reply. The court agrees that fees for travel time between Sacramento and Los Angeles were not reasonably incurred in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike and that HJTA is not entitled to recover these fees. As discussed above, the court denies HJTA’s request for attorney’s fees for any of the work performed by Mr. Bittle on February 13, 2018, which included fees incurred for “Fly to L.A.” The court notes that Mr. Bittle’s billing entries for (1) February 14, 2018 (“Meet J&J, attend Hrg.; Fly home; Conf w/ JMC,” for a total of 7.25 hours), (2) June 16, 2019 (“Travel to L.A.; prep for Ct,” for a total of 4.9 hours) and (3) June 17, 2019 (“Attend hrg; travel home; Conf w/ JMC,” for a total of 7.75 hours) include fees for travel time between Sacramento and Los Angeles. The court therefore exercises its discretion to reduce the number of hours billed on (1) February 14, 2018, from 7.25 hours to 4.25 hours (3 hours), (2) June 16, 2019, from 4.9 to 1.9 hours (3 hours), and (3) June 17, 2019, from 7.75 hours to 4.75 hours (3 hours) (reduced by a total of 9 hours).

Finally, Plaintiffs object to HJTA’s estimated 18 additional hours to draft a reply, and travel to and appear at the hearing on this motion. The court finds that 9 hours to draft a reply, and travel to and appear at the hearing on this motion is a reasonable number of hours, and therefore exercises its discretion to reduce the number of hours estimated from 18 hours to 9 hours (9 hours total).

For the reasons set forth above, the court exercises its discretion to reduce the number of hours billed by Mr. Bittle (291.15 total for 273.15 plus 18 anticipated) by 34.15 hours (9.4 hours for February 13, 2018 + 3 hours for February 14, 2018 + 0.75 hours for April 16, 2018 + 2.5 hours for April 9, 2019 + 3 hours for June 16, 2019 + 3 hours for June 17, 2019 + 3.5 hours for October 30, November 6, November 18, and December 3, 2019 for tasks related to the proposed judgment + 9 hours for estimated additional hours to draft a reply and appear at the hearing on this motion = 34.15 hours), for a total of 257 hours (291.15 hours - 34.15 hours = 257 hours).

Based on its consideration of the evidence filed by HJTA in support of its motion for attorney’s fees, HJTA’s special motion to strike and the corresponding appeal, and the complexity of factual and legal issues presented by that motion and the corresponding appeal, the court finds that 257 hours were reasonably expended by Mr. Bittle at an hourly rate of $700, and 12.21 hours were reasonably expended by Mr. Coupal at an hourly rate of $500, in connection with HJTA’s special motion to strike and this motion for attorney’s fees. The court therefore finds that HJTA is entitled to recover its reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in connection with its special motion to strike and this motion for attorney’s fees in the total amount of $186,005 ($179,900 [257 hours for Mr. Bittle x $700 per hour = $179,900] + $6,105 [12.21 hours for Mr. Coupal x $500 per hour = $6,105] = $186,005).

ORDER

For the reasons set forth above, the court grants defendant Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s motion for attorney’s fees. The court orders that defendant Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association shall recover $186,005 in attorney’s fees from plaintiffs Debra Louise, Lynette Merritt, Shawn Robison, and Cristina Romero pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, subdivision (c)(1).

The court orders defendant Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to give notice of this ruling.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: November 3, 2020

_____________________________

Robert B. Broadbelt III

Judge of the Superior Court



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