A Newport Beach company is suing Katrina Foley, a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board trustee, claiming she pursued a lawsuit without proper evidence in a case related solely to her capacity as an employment attorney.
Monex Deposit Co. filed suit in April 2013 against Foley and her former client Terry Parsons, who initially sued the investment firm for allegedly firing him without cause, according to documents filed with the Orange County Superior Court.
The court ruled in Monex’s favor. The company then made a post-trial motion for attorneys fees because it believed Parsons brought “frivolous” claims against the company. The trial court denied the motion, stating that the claims were not “vexatious” or “frivolous,” the documents state.
Monex is suing Parsons and Foley for alleged malicious prosecution in an attempt to recoup attorneys fees, said Foley, who is running for a seat on the Costa Mesa City Council this year.
A claim for malicious prosecution requires proof that the prior lawsuit had spiteful intent and was brought to the court without probable cause.
Monex claims in its suit that despite knowing her client did not have evidence to support his claims, Foley continued to prosecute Monex.
Foley disputed that.
“I had never heard of this company before in my life,” she said. “There’s no malice. I was just doing my job. It’s a case of them trying to get revenge on my client, and I’m caught up in this.”
Malicious prosecution cases are relatively rare because the courts don’t favor them, said Denis Binder, a law professor at Chapman University.
“They want you to resolve your disputes in law and not go into the back alley and fight it out,” he said. “They don’t want to penalize you if you lose a case.”
Binder noted that it’s unusual for attorneys to be named in malicious prosecution lawsuits along with their clients.
“It’s uncommon, but I can’t say it’s never been done,” he said.
Monex alleges that Parsons attempted to support the lawsuit against the company with allegations he knew were untrue, according to court documents.
Specifically, Parsons alleged he had a disabling heart condition and required accommodations for his medical ailment, which Monex reportedly denied him. Parsons also alleged that Monex discriminated against him for asking for the accommodations and taking medical leave, the documents state.
Monex alleged in the court papers that Parsons pursued the claims out of malice to gain a settlement from the company.
This month, Foley motioned to strike Monex’s complaint under the California Anti-SLAPP statute, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participants, stating that the company’s lawsuit is an attempt to infringe upon constitutionally protected free speech rights.
The court has not issued a judgment on the Anti-SLAPP motion, Foley said.
If the case moves forward, a pretrial conference is scheduled for March 2015, according to court documents.