MARIPOSA COUNTY, CA – Mariposa County Counsel responded via email in regards to the federal judge’s denial of their anti-SLAPP motion. AAL published the story after Mariposa County Sheriff’s Dept, Silver & Wright and California Receivership Group did not respond by our 2 PM deadline Friday. Thankfully the Mariposa County’s Counsel/Risk Manager Steven W. Dahlem and this is the county’s response to the judge’s order in it’s entirety.
“The County strongly believes Mr. Cox’s case is baseless and purely in retaliation for the County holding him to account for his years of code violations, illegal land uses and breaching a long-standing agreement to use the property solely for agricultural use in exchange for lower property taxes. Mr. Cox took the benefit of the lower taxes, but still illegally used the property. The County believes his lawsuit was filed in an attempt to punish the County for enforcing the law, to try and leverage the County to drop its own claims against Mr. Cox and to try and project the blame for Mr. Cox’s violations onto the County instead. At no point has Mr. Cox taken responsibility for his years of legal violations.
The federal court denied the County’s Anti-SLAPP motion, which was aimed at throwing out just the state law claims in the lawsuit. By law this kind of motion could only focus on the state law claims, and as you know, the lawsuit includes federal law claims as well. The court denied it only on procedural grounds, determining the motion could not be utilized in this scenario. The County disagrees, and are considering whether an appeal is worthwhile.
The federal court did not rule on any of the merits of Mr. Cox’s claim. This was a purely procedural motion and procedural decision.
The County will be filing a different motion to dismiss the entire lawsuit. Procedurally, the two motions had to be filed separately. We are hopeful that motion will save the taxpayers the cost of continuing with Mr. Cox’s meritless lawsuit. If not, the County is confident in defending itself through the rest of the case.
You may also be wondering about the County’s response to the side-note in the Court’s ruling referring to Mr. Cox’s claims as “unsettling, to say the least.”
Read in its context, the court was saying that plaintiff’s false allegation of some kind of conspiracy was “unsettling.” There has never been a conspiracy, and it wasn’t until later in the County’s case that Mr. Cox shifted to this narrative.
The court even stated in the very next sentence that the evidence is “circumstantial” and “even assuming it is all true…” the circumstantial evidence does not prove Mr. Cox’s claims are true.
The court’s statement here is easy to overlook, but is extremely important. It means that Mr. Cox’s claims are meritless.
The court also correctly noted the County’s repeated assertions that enforcing Mr. Cox’s many code violations was for a lawful purpose, i.e. protecting the property, the neighbors and the public. Which is true and remains true whether or not Mr. Cox acknowledges it.
This was a procedural motion, not a trial on the issues, so the court only had Mr. Cox’s version of the evidence before it, not the County’s and certainly not all the facts.
I’m not sure if you’ve already been provided more background information on the County’s case. If not, I think some more information is important for an accurate reporting on this matter. The County tried for years (9, to be exact) to convince Mr. Cox to voluntarily comply with the law, before having to file its court action. You might already be aware of many of the violations, but just for some additional background, Mr. Cox advertised and rented out the property for illegal uses, like short term rentals and big events. This was prohibited under the CA Williamson Act and an agreement that gave Mr. Cox reduced property taxes (up to 75% reduction) in exchange for limiting the use of the property to agricultural-type uses. While Mr. Cox took advantage of the lower property taxes, he nonetheless used the property in violation of the agreement and law. And, the conditions people stayed in were unacceptable. For example, Mr. Cox illegally converted a storage building permitted only for agricultural storage to use for human occupancy. Also, a barn that was severely deteriorated and being actively used for housing animals, had evidence of people sleeping in it, including a toilet and shower in the animal pens. A gazebo was collapsing, a portion of another building was being held up by jacks, there was illegal and rigged-up electrical, an illegal septic system, a building being powered by a car battery, and several other violations and hazards. I’m attaching photos of some of these conditions and notices the County sent Mr. Cox over the years.
Mr. Cox later created his conspiracy story. However, that is completely untrue. To the contrary, the County’s enforcement action was filed before the separate DA criminal case was dropped. The DA dismissed their case on August 14, 2017. However, the County filed its enforcement action on March 13, 2017 – a full 5 months before the DA dismissed the criminal case. Further, the County filed its motion to seek appointment of a court receiver on June 20, 2017 – again, 2 months before the criminal case was dismissed. And the receiver was appointed on July 17, 2017 – 1 month before the criminal case was dismissed. Mr. Cox’s entire conspiracy theory is based on the premise that the County only filed the enforcement action because the criminal case “didn’t work.” Obviously that is false, both in the chronology and factually.
We had no idea where the criminal case was going to go, nor was that even relevant to the County’s enforcement action, which was based only on property and contractual violations. The DA’s and County Counsel offices are separate and I had no input on, control over or even any interest in, the DA’s case. That was exclusively their matter. However, after confirming all those violations of law on Mr. Cox’s property and after years of him continuing to violate the law and notices, the County had to take action on those property-related violations. The decision to file this case had nothing to do with the DA’s completely separate case. The County only mentioned the criminal case once in its enforcement action, and that was (as was clearly stated in the court filings) to illustrate how County staff was apprehensive about interacting with Mr. Cox because of his volatile behavior. Simply put, the County’s case was based on evidence of violations of law relating to the property and Mr. Cox’s violation of contractual obligations; in other words, it was grounded in reality, not some conspiracy, as Mr. Cox claims. The State Court Judge already reviewed the facts and evidence in the County’s case and ruled the County was correct.
As further evidence against any so-called conspiracy, Mr. Cox violated a judgment he agreed to on another one of his properties and the County hasn’t taken any enforcement action on that to date. I think this shows the County’s level of restraint and that its motives in this case are only about compliance, not some conspiracy.” – Steven W. Dahlem, Mariposa County Counsel/Risk Manager