THE FIRST AMENDMENT IS ALIVE AND WELL
By Eric Glazer, Esq.
Some justice was done in an Orange County courtroom last week. The firm’s client was sued by her association because she started a website that included the name of the association in the website address. The website was also critical of the association and the Board. Other members of the community had the opportunity to post what they thought as well.
In retaliation, the association sued our client under the Registration and Protection of Trademarks Act for simply unauthorized use of the association’s name, libel, slander and tortious interference. After the court repeatedly dismissed the case, the association wouldn’t let go and proceeded to file a forth amended complaint. In response, our firm filed what’s called a 57.105 motion. Basically, it’s a motion that puts the other side and their counsel on notice that they filed a frivolous claim and that if they don’t dismiss the claim, we will be seeking prevailing party attorney’s fees against not only the association, but the association’s attorneys as well.
A few days after we filed the motion, the association dismissed all claims. However, our office argued that under the very statutes that our client was accused of violating, we were now still entitled to an award of prevailing party attorney’s fees and costs. Of course the association fought against our client’s entitlement to fees, so the court was required to hold a hearing. At the hearing, our firm requested approximately $26,000.00 and the court awarded us almost $23,000.00, pretty close to everything we asked for.
Think about what an association can do with an additional $23,000.00. That may get a building painted. It may get new carpeting in the hallways or even a new deck for the pool area. At this condominium however, it is being used to pay the attorney’s fees to a unit owner who had the audacity to criticize the members of her condominium’s board of directors.
Here’s the bottom line for those of you who volunteer your time to serve on the Board. Thank you for your work. We know you don’t get paid for it and no matter what you do, there are people that are going to be critical of you. However, you know that going in. If your feathers are going to be ruffled each and every time someone says you stink, you will always be miserable and on the defensive. Instead, simply do the right thing, which is your best. And, quickly get used to the fact that we still have a first amendment in this country that lets people voice their displeasure with those they elect, all the way from the President of The United States to the President of the condominium’s Board of Directors.