Calif. holds HOA elections as protected free speech public elections

Speaking of HOA members and public voting rights, “Why Are HOA Members Allowed A Public Vote?”[1], let’s look at the reverse side and ask, Why aren’t HOA elections equivalent to public elections?  This is another example of how successful constitutional challenges can lead to and bring about broad HOA reform legislation.

Many of us are aware of the treatment of dissenting and opposing voices with respect to BOD actions and elections. There are the threats by rogue BODs of harm, and of  slanderous and libelous statements aimed to discredit and injure the dissenter’s reputation. And then, in true attack the attackers,  there are the lawsuits by the BOD claiming that the dissenter’s speech was harmful and injured the reputation of the HOA and/or BOD members.

Anti-SLAPP

These lawsuits are referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPP —  whose purpose is to silence the dissenting homeowner(s) by arguing that the HOA/BOD was defamed.[2]  In the name of justice, or the appearance of justice, many states have adopted anti-SLAPP statutes to protect the dissenters; in our case here, the homeowners. The common criteria to file an anti-slapp suit includes (my emphasis):

A moving party may file a special motion to dismiss [the HOA suit] under [the state’s] antiSLAPP statutes “if an [HOA] action is filed in retaliation to the exercise of free speech [homeowner dissent].” In considering a special motion to dismiss, a district court must undertake a two-prong analysis. First, the court must determine whether the moving party [homeowner] has, by a preponderance of the evidence, established that the action [anti-slapp motion] is based upon a good faith communication in furtherance of the right to free speech in direct connection with an issue of public concern.

Furthermore, 1)  the statement must be made without knowledge of falsehood or truth with respect to a public concern, 2) the statement must be made in a place open to the public or in a public forum, and 3) “aimed at procuring any governmental or electoral action, result or outcome.” WOW! No chance in hell to bring an anti-Slapp suit against an HOA.

HOA elections are public

However, as expected, the anti-slapp statutes vary from state to state with Arizona adopting the very strict government election requirement while California has held, over several court cases, that (my emphasis):

California courts have repeatedly held in the context of anti-SLAPP litigation that board meetings of a homeowners association “serve[] a function similar to that of a governmental body. As [the California] Supreme Court has recognized, owners of planned development units “‘comprise a little democratic subsociety.”‘ … A homeowners’ association board is in effect ‘a quasi-government entity paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government.”[3]

The use of mail or internet – social media or websites open to the public —  have been held by the California courts to be “ a public forum.”   Nextdoor was held to be a public forum in spite of the fact it functions as a closed group, but its intent is clearly to be open to anyone.[4]

This is another important tool for homeowners and advocates to use in CA, and to lobby for the same return to justice anti-slapp laws in other states.

Notes

[1] George K. Staropoli, “Why are HOA members allowed a public vote?” HOA Constitutional Government (July 20, 2019).

[2] See in general, Colorado’s anti-Slapp statute, Colorado becomes 31st State.

[3] Quoted Appellant’s Opening Brief,  Kosor v. Olympia Companies, LLC, (Nev. SC NO.75669, Feb. 8, 2019). At this writing Kosor has not yet been accepted to be heard by the Nevada Supreme Court.

[4] Id, Part C, vii, printed page 33.  See Kronemyer v. Internet Movie Data Base, Inc., 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 48 (2007).

“Rules of Engagement” apply to CAI

Many may feel from all my criticism that I unjustifiably have it in for CAI.  Well folks, you decide whether the CAI propaganda statements and publications that are PR releases is in conflict with its numerous acts before state legislators and the courts.  These contradictory stances are revealed in CAI’s amicus briefswhat I say I don’t do [1].

Advocates have failed to apply the Rules of Engagement to such Doubletalk[2] from CAI allowing the legislators, the media and the BODs to see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil.  These Rules are a very important weapon to discredit CAI and stop the policymakers from trusting their misleading statements; to start believing in the validity of the positions and arguments for HOA reforms coming from homeowners and homeowner advocates.

As a prime example, and there are many others found in the numerous CAI briefs dealing with constitutional HOA issues, is the NJ Supreme Court case in Dublirer.[3] It involved the free speech rights of a homeowner to equal access the HOA facilities in order to distribute BOD election materials to his neighbors – an exercise of his rights in a democracy. Allow me to repeat my quotes[4] from CAI’s NJ Supreme Court amicus brief in Dublirer.[5]

CAI-NJ’s concern is the attempt to convert private communities into constitutional actors and to open such communities to access not only to speakers from within the community but also to the public, while ignoring contractual agreements and non-constitutional protections.

The relationship between the plaintiff and the defendants here is that of a business corporation and so is similar to that involved in any other business corporation. A shareholder who wishes to run for a position on a corporate board has no right to post campaign signs on the corporation’s property. . . . He has no constitutional right to distribute his campaign materials within the cooperative’s property simply because mailing them to the other tenant/shareholders may cost him money”.

In plain English, this is secessionist and a rejection of the Constitution. CAI’s position says the people in an HOA will decide what laws to follow or not to follow. It is an incredulous statement from the organization that claims to be the one and only voice on HOAs, but apparently does not understand or simply ignores constitutional law. The CAI position is in opposition to the  long-standing legal doctrine on the delegation of legislative (lawmaking) powers to private persons.

In order to win, advocates must muzzle CAI’s lack of “candor to the tribunal.”[6]  Judicial and legislative  doctrines hold that an allegation or argument that goes unanswered is held to be true.  That’s why, it seems, advocates are viewed as unbelievable,  because of their repeated silence resulting from a lack of knowledge on how to respond.  This must change!

 

References

[1] See in general, Will the real CAI standup: its contradictory beliefs, pronouncements and goals.

[2] From George Orwell’s novel, 1984, where a person holds two contradictory statements at the same time.

[3] Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue,  103 A.3d 249 (NJ 2014).

[4] See my Commentary for additional quotes: CAI: the HOA form of government is independent of the US Constitution.

[5] Dublirer CAI Amicus.pdf.

[6] Attorney Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 42, E.R. 3.3

The death of the Fairness Doctrine and the rise of HOA-Land media bias

Those of you who have followed me for some time will have run across my criticism of the media[1]  for failing to honor the trust placed in it by the First Amendment to the Constitution — free speech.

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . ..”

What’s this Fairness Doctrine, you may ask?

For over 30 years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) required broadcast licensees (TV and radio) to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was fair and balanced. This requirement came to be known as the “Fairness Doctrine.”[2]

The FCC believed that broadcast licenses (required for both radio and terrestrial TV stations) were a form of public trust and, as such, licensees should provide balanced and fair coverage of controversial issues . . .. The “public interest” justification for the fairness doctrine is outlined in Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1937 (amended in 1959).[3]

In “What Is The Fairness Doctrine?”, author Gill quotes the Court in Red Lion v. FCC,[4]

It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC.

The death of Fairness

Subsequent to the 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Red Lion, things turned down for equal opportunity to reply.  Further court rulings and the resultant FCC dismissal of the Doctrine sealed its application. President Reagan, in an astounding rejection of free speech for the advancement of public issues as a necessity for a democracy to properly function, vetoed legislation with the following justification:

“This type of content-based regulation by the federal government is, in my judgment, antagonistic to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Reagan said in his veto message. In any other medium besides broadcasting, such federal policing of the editorial judgment of journalists would be unthinkable.[5]

Understanding that Reagan was in the entertainment and media business, no wonder he turned the First Amendment on its head.  He tossed out the intent and purposes of the Founding Fathers who saw the necessity of open dialogue in a healthy democracy. By his veto he allowed business interests to redefine the compelling government interest set forth by the Founding Fathers to protect the Constitution.

The court rulings and the FCC reaction faced with the above reality, can be summarized by the 1989 DC District Court ruling (final ruling in Syracuse Peace Council v FCC) holding,

On the basis of the voluminous factual record compiled in this proceeding, our experience in administering the doctrine and our general expertise in broadcast regulation, we no longer believe that the fairness doctrine, as a matter of policy, serves the public interest …[6]

 

In summary, no longer must the media honor the original trust given to it under the First Amendment.  It no longer needs to present both sides of the story for an informed electorate, an informed public.  It can, as profusely evident, present its own view of the “facts” as we witness conservative vs liberal, Democrat vs. Republican, the rich vs the middle class, white vs black, etc., etc.  As one media guest put it, America has become tribal with one faction opposing another faction.

And these attacks upon our American system of democratic government have trickled down to HOA-Land where they have been adopted by the media, undoubtedly influenced by the special interest promotors of HOA-Land.  And so, the public, the readers and viewers of HOA “news,” get half-truths that do not serve the fundamental requirement of a democracy to inform the public.

 

References

[1] See in general, HOA-Land success aided by the failure of investigative reporting (2017)  Arizona Republic: A new low in media ethics and a violation of the public trust.’ (2007); Continued national HOA problems and the failure of the media; (2007).

[2]Fairness Doctrine: History and Constitutional Issues,” Kathleen Ann Ruane, Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, p. 1, July 13, 2011.

[3]What Is The Fairness Doctrine?”, Kathy Gill, ThoughtCo., May 23, 2017.

[4] Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, 395 U.S. 367 (1969).

[5]Reagan’s Veto Kills Fairness Doctrine Bill,” Penny Pagano, L. A. Times, June 21, 1987.

[6] Supra, n. 3.

The Two Americas: Constitutional America and HOA-Land

On this Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, America is fighting battles in a number of countries where our sons and daughter and our brothers and sisters have paid the ultimate price defending the United States of America, and the democratic values and beliefs of justice and equality for which it stands.

Yet, we have those in America firmly believing that the Constitution protects free speech, but not when private contracts are involved. And they support private agreements called Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that cross over the line between purely property restrictions to establishing unregulated and authoritarian private governments. Florida attorney Ryan Poliakoff (brother of the late CAI activist attorney Gary Poliakoff) is one of them. These HOAs (an all-inclusive term) operate outside our constitutional system of government.

In his May 28th column on Florida Today, he asks and answers the title question, “Did you sign away your free speech with HOA?[1]  with a firm YES.   Why and for what system of government are our troops fighting and dying for?  For the America of our Founding Fathers or for the misguided special interests who have a financial interest in HOA-Land, and who act and function as an oppressive oligarchy. (It is estimated that 20% – 23% of Americans live under HOA private governments). In our case, it means rule by the few special interests who lobby nationwide for pro-HOA legislation to protect the status quo.

I’m shocked at Mr. Poliakoff’s biased and simplified explanation and justification for HOA private governments; after all, he is a lawyer and dares speak of The Bill of Rights. He writes,

Private entities have no obligation to respect your right to say whatever you want, no matter how offensive it may be. . . . So if the rights and obligations of a mandatory membership community are contractual, and not municipal, shouldn’t they be allowed to restrict speech?

The most blatant misrepresentation of the facts occurs when he argues (emphasis added),

Personally, I agree with the majority position. I see no reason that persons who voluntarily bind themselves by, knowingly, buying property subject to restrictions should not be bound by those restrictions (unless the state passes laws that expressly limit the association’s power, such as the condominium laws that protect owners’ right to assemble, or the federal laws that guarantee every person the right to fly an American flag.)

Otherwise, I view deed-restricted communities as guided and governed by contracts, and I believe they should be treated, generally, the same as any private contract between individuals.

I vehemently object to these misleading statements by an attorney!  Apparently he has failed to read, or refuses to rebut, arguments that I raise with respect to 1) alleged agreement to a contract,[2] 2) HOAs as de facto governments hiding behind the privacy of the questionable CC&Rs contract,[3] and 3) the application of US Supreme Court criteria for a bona fide surrender/waiver of constitutional rights, including due process and the equal protection of the laws, which the HOA legal scheme fails miserably.

Furthermore, he should well know that the alleged contract is not between individuals or other HOA members, but between the HOA and the individual owner. Yet, he admits, by implication, that all HOA reform legislation is an attempt to restore lost rights, rights that belong to all Americans.

Mr. Poliakoff also informs his readers that he co-authored the 2009 book, New Neighborhoods[4] that contains the very same attitude and view towards independent HOA principalities as professed in this article.  In my Amazon book review I wrote (emphasis added),

Ellen Hirsch de Haan, former CAI president, acknowledges that the biggest problem for the successful operations of these associations “is the lack of education among the consumers who are buying homes and units . . . . And the authors inform their readers that, “These neighborhoods could not operate without . . . the owners, who give up certain traditional homeowner rights for the good of the community.” “This is good”.

“The Poliakoff’s continue, informing their readers that “out of anarchy came utopia“, and quote an appellate court dicta that “each owner must give up a certain degree of freedom of choice which he might otherwise enjoy living in a separate, privately owned property.” The authors define the purpose of this book as, explaining “the workings of these communities — these New Neighborhoods — . . . and to let purchasers know just what they are getting into.”

I believe that Mr. Polikoff has failed miserably to fully educate the legislators, the media and the home buyers in both his book and in his recent article, both of which present the special interest “party line” and not the facts, the whole facts, and nothing but the facts.

This is not new or unique to Mr. Poliakoff.  CAI has recently released a series of white papers, which I collectively refer to as the CAI Manifesto.[5]    Kelly Richardson, national CAI Trustee and Realtor wrote about socialistic housing and submitting to the will of the community because, allegedly, that buyers had openly agreed to the surrender of their rights.

That’s the root of so many of the HOA horror stories we’ve all heard, as owners normally do not realize that their submission to the will of their new community is accomplished by the automatic application of covenants running with the residence. . . . The most caustic critics of HOAs in general are actually opposed to the concept of joint ownership. This is a completely unrealistic position . . .[6]

 

 

The positions taken in support of HOA-Land, as evidenced above, constitute a political movement — as any other recognized movement — that consists of separate and disparate collection of private governments not subject to the constitution because of a “verboten,” hands-off attitude, and have created 2 Americas.   The divide is just a  dangerous as a country divided over political philosophy as witnessed in our current political campaign.  It must not be allowed to continue regardless of what party or person will sit in the White House.

References

[1] Did you sign away your free speech with HOA, FloridaToday (USA Today), Ryan Poliakoff , May 28, 2016.

[2] Consent to be governed, No. 4 of HOA Common Sense: rejecting private government.

[3] HOA Governments in fact, No. 9, Id. See also, CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape constitutional government.

[4] New Neighborhoods—The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-Op and HOA Living.

[5]  CAI manifesto: CAI’s plan for HOA-Land in America;  See also, Deborah Goonan’s  critique in “HOA laws and Free Speech, Right to Know”.

[6] Realtor magazine publishes HOA socialism by CAI Trustee, quoting A Note of Caution About HOAs, RealtorMag, Official Magazine of the National Association of Realtors, February 2015.

Protecting HOA political free speech on matters of general community interest

Should matters of concern and interest to the general HOA member-community be protected from suits designed to stifle participation in HOA governance?  Homeowners in HOAs should be protected from these suits, called SLAPP suits, just as the general public is protected in most states that have anti-SLAPP laws.

The question becomes: will the courts hold issues of HOA governance to be a matter of general public interest and concern?  A failure of the courts to do so puts HOA governments solidly into the category of independent principalities, where members are not permitted free speech on community public issues, especially about their governing body, the HOA.

The expected defenses are 1) that HOAs are private, contractual governing bodies not subject to the 14th Amendment protections, which the members have agreed to obey; and disregarding the Ruiz opinion above,  2) the local HOA community cannot be considered as a public body that is interested in and concerned with matters of public interest; it’s a local, private matter.

There are several California cases holding that HOA concerns amount to public speech because it affects the community at large.  The following are anti-SLAPP suits.

“A SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit brought primarily to chill a party’s constitutional right of petition or free speech. The anti-SLAPP statute was enacted to prevent and deter lawsuits that chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances and provides “an efficient procedural mechanism to obtain an early and inexpensive dismissal of nonmeritorious claims” arising from the exercise of those constitutional rights. . . . . The resident’s front lawn is a public forum for purposes of the First Amendment. . . . Moreover, it is now well established that the anti-SLAPP statute protects private conversations as well as those occurring in a public forum.” (Santa Barbara).

“’Public interest’ within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute has been broadly defined to include, in addition to government matters,  ‘private conduct that impacts a broad segment of society and/or that affects a community in a manner similar to that of a governmental entity.’ (Ruiz; according to California statutes).

[My emphasis]

“[W]e hold the trial court properly determined the anti-SLAPP statute applied because the evidence showed the alleged defamatory statements were made “in a place open to the public or in a public forum” and concerned “an issue of public interest. . . .  The two locations where the alleged defamatory statements were made–at the Board meetings and in the Village Voice newsletter [HOA] –were open to the public and constituted “public forums.” Additionally, because each of the allegedly defamatory statements concerned [*11] the manner in which a large residential community would be governed, they concerned “issue[s] of public interest.”  (Damon).

A homeowners association board is in effect ‘a quasi-government entity paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government’ (citing Cohen v. Kite Hill Community Assn).”  (Damon).

My quick survey of state anti-SLAPP laws shows AZ, IL, HI, GA and MD as having strict laws relating to only issues before the legislature or a law, as petitioning rights.  A host of other states contain the much broader right to file an anti-SLAPP suit for issues of public interest. They are: CA, FL (as of 7/2015), IN, LA, OR, RI, TX, VT, and WA.  Check current status.

Case references:

  1. Santa Barbara Beach Club HOA v. Freeman, 2d Civil No. B212972 (Cal. App. 2nd 2010)
  2. Ruiz v. Harbor View CA, 37 Cal.Rptr.3d 133 (2005)
  3. Damon v. Ocean Hills [an HOA], 102 Cal.Rptr.2d 205 (2000)