A prisoner doesn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for suing the widow of the Pierce County man he killed, the Washington State Court of Appeals said Tuesday.
Larry Shandola fatally shot Robert Henry, a former friend and business partner, in 1995 in Tacoma, and in 2013 sued the man’s wife — Paula Henry.
To be closer to his family, Shandola wanted to serve his prison time in Canada, but Paula Henry and others objected to the move. Shandola sued, contending their objections violated his privacy rights and caused him emotional distress.
Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson threw out the lawsuit under a state law aimed at preventing unfounded suits intended to silence free speech.
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And, under the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation law, Johnson ordered Shandola to pay $10,000 each to Henry and the others he sued.
The state Supreme Court found the SLAPP law unconstitutional in May 2015, and Shandola argued that meant he shouldn’t have to pay up.
Johnson disagreed, noting the constitutionality of the law wasn’t an issue at the time of his decision.
But Division II of the state Court of Appeals said Tuesday that the high court’s decision applied retroactively, meaning Shandola was right.
Judge Bradley Maxa wrote on behalf of the unanimous court:
“Implementing Shandola’s requested relief would be straightforward — the trial court would simply strike the damages, attorney fees, and costs from its judgment. The trial court will not have to place the case back on the trial calendar or address the merits of the lawsuit.”
Shandola had been ordered to pay $20,625 to Paula Henry — not to mention the others he sued — for attorney’s fees, damages and other costs.
If the appellate court ruling is exclusively about the cash, Henry’s attorney said he’s not concerned.
“If that’s it, then I’m fine with that, and so is my client,” said John Ladenburg Sr., former prosecutor and county executive. “She never thought she’d get any money out of this guy,” because he’s behind bars.
The important thing, Ladenburg said, is that the court doesn’t overturn the dismissal of the lawsuit, which the Tuesday decision didn’t appear to do.
Ladenburg said he hadn’t had a chance to review the decision, but another attorney on the case who did said it wouldn’t affect the dismissal.
“The time to appeal is gone,” said Paul Smith III, who represented a crime victim advocate named in Shandola’s suit.
It’s too late for Shandola to appeal further to try to get the dismissal overturned, he said.
Shandola, who was sentenced to 31 years for the murder, has maintained his innocence in Robert Henry’s death.
At his trial, he was convicted of being the masked gunman who killed Robert Henry in the parking lot of North Coast Electric Co., where Henry was an executive.
The gunman took none of Henry’s possessions and rode away on a motorcycle.
Shandola’s suit required Paula Henry to be in court decades after her husband’s death. She since has helped get a state law passed that requires judges to review such lawsuits before they’re sent to victims or their families.