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School trustee must pay legal fees

Orange board member filed meritless lawsuit, an appeal court rules.

September 06, 2008|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

A California appeals court has upheld a Superior Court ruling that Orange Unified School District board member Steve Rocco and others must pay $37,000 in legal fees stemming from a dismissed lawsuit against the district.

Rocco was joined by Richard McKee, president of the California First Amendment Coalition, and the nonprofit group Californians Aware in suing the district in 2006 after Rocco's fellow trustees censured him for belittling a school principal during a public board meeting.

The appeals court agreed late Thursday that the suit was meritless because the trustees had a right to state their opinions as part of "communication in connection with a public issue."

Because of that, the lawsuit violated California's anti-SLAPP law, which protects people from claims that seek to stifle public discourse on issues. SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

Since being elected to the school board as an unknown who barely campaigned in 2004, Rocco has stirred controversy with his eccentric behavior and unproved conspiracy theories aimed at district officials and others.

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mike.anton@latimes.com

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