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Attorney Vicki Roberts lost election to the Los Angeles County bench in 2000, and on Tuesday she also lost her suit against the county’s bar association for evaluating her as “not qualified” to be a judge. By unanimous vote, L.A.’s Second District Court of Appeal declared that the solo practitioner’s complaint for breach of contract and fraud ran afoul of the state’s anti-SLAPP statute and that it could have chilled the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s free-speech rights. “We conclude that although Roberts’ action was an attack on the process of the evaluations, that process was inextricably intertwined with and part and parcel of the evaluations,” Justice Fred Woods Jr. wrote for the court. “Thus, the action arose from the bar association’s exercise of its constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue, i.e., to speak out on the qualifications of candidates for judicial office.” Justices Dennis Perluss and Earl Johnson Jr. concurred. The ruling reverses L.A. County Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias, who had held that the anti-SLAPP statute — which targets so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation — did not apply to Roberts’ suit. Los Angeles lawyer Gary Kessler, who represented the bar association and argued the case before the appeal court only 13 days ago, was ecstatic. “It’s a very important ruling for the bar association,” the Wilion, Kirkwood, Kessler & Hoffman partner said Tuesday, “and for the First Amendment rights of people to give their opinions on the qualifications of a candidate for judicial office.” Roberts was one of six candidates for the L.A. County Municipal Court bench in March 2000, when the bar association’s judicial election evaluations committee found her “not qualified.” The committee found that Roberts lacked judicial temperament after receiving letters saying the candidate did not exercise professional judgment, was erratic, had a “hair trigger” personality and a chip on her shoulder, and was occasionally condescending. At her interview with the subcommittee investigating Roberts’ qualifications, the appeal court noted, there were discussions that her pleadings were rambling, that she was overly passionate about issues and exhibited inappropriate dress in the courtroom. Even with the association’s “not qualified” rating, Roberts got enough votes to put her in a runoff with candidate David Mintz the following November. Mintz won with 53.3 percent of the vote to Roberts’ 46.6 percent. Roberts, 43, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but her Web site — www.restmycase.com — lists her credentials, ranging from a practice that’s 85 percent civil litigation and 15 percent criminal defense, and noting that she has served as a judge pro tem on the county’s municipal court. The site also has pictures of Roberts’ “best friend,” her dog Jesse, and photos of her with celebrity supporters such as Red Buttons and Gary Busey. It also notes that Roberts plays the piano and cello, pilots small aircraft and has been a senior citizen and animal charity volunteer. She graduated from L.A.’s Southwestern University School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1983. The appeal court expressed little regard for Roberts’ case, stating that she made no attempt to refute many of the bar association’s arguments. “In particular,” the justices said, “she does not explain how without the alleged breaches of contract and false promises, she would have received other than a ‘not qualified’ evaluation. Such conclusory argument may be deemed an abandonment of an issue.” The court also took exception to Roberts’ presentation of her resume, her candidate statement and declarations of support from clients, opposing counsel and co-counsel. “In essence, those declarations stated Roberts did not exhibit the negative characteristics noted by the bar association,” Justice Woods wrote. “As such, the declarations are not evidence of problems with the evaluation process.” The case is Roberts v. Los Angeles County Bar Association, B150039. The full text of the ruling will appear in Thursday’s California Daily Opinion Service.

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