When Attorney's Letter Constitutes ''Criminal Extortion'' ?

Speech or petitioning activity that is "illegal as a matter of law," is not protected, and "the defendant is precluded from using the anti-SLAPP statute to strike the plaintiff's action." (Flatley v. Mauro (2006) 39 Cal.4th 299, 320.) In Flatley, the plaintiff sued an attorney for civil extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful interference with economic advantage. (Flatley, at p. 305.) The lawsuit was based on a letter from the attorney threatening to go public with a rape allegation unless the plaintiff paid $100 million. (Id. at pp. 305-308.) The attorney filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which the trial court denied. (Flatley, at p. 311.) The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that as a matter of law the attorney's letter constituted criminal extortion and therefore was not protected. (Ibid.) The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal's decision, stating: "Where a defendant brings a motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute based on a claim that the plaintiff's action arises from activity by the defendant in furtherance of the defendant's exercise of protected speech . . ., but either the defendant concedes, or the evidence conclusively establishes, that the asserted protected speech . . . was illegal as a matter of law, the defendant is precluded from using the anti-SLAPP statute to strike the plaintiff's action." (Flatley, at p. 320.) The Supreme Court's use of the phrase "illegal" in Flatley "was intended to mean criminal, and not merely violative of a statute." (Mendoza v. ADP Screening & Selection Services, Inc. (2010) 182 Cal.App.4th 1644, 1654-1655.) This is because "Flatley discussed the attorney's underlying conduct in the context of the Penal Code's criminalization of extortion" and "a reading of Flatley to push any statutory violation outside the reach of the anti-SLAPP statute would greatly weaken the constitutional interests which the statute is designed to protect . . . . A plaintiff's complaint always alleges a defendant engaged in illegal conduct in that it violated some common law standard of conduct or statutory prohibition, giving rise to liability, and we decline to give plaintiffs a tool for avoiding the application of the anti-SLAPP statute merely by showing any statutory violation." (Mendoza, at pp. 1654-1655.)