An erosion project in lower Buck Gully was approved at a meeting of the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday. (HAND IN / August 14, 2011)

The owner of a Corona del Mar pet shop has withdrawn a harassment claim against an animal rights protester but faces more than $5,000 in legal fees because of a so-called SLAPP motion, according to online court records and the woman's attorney.

Brooke Bradford filed for a temporary restraining order against Carole Davis on July 22 after a confrontation between the two women inside the I Heart Puppies shop at 2801 E. Coast Hwy.

She later consulted with an attorney, and they decided to drop the case because there had been no other incidents, said the lawyer, Richard Feld.

"We felt it wasn't necessary," Feld said. "We respect Carole's and her group's 1st Amendment rights, as long as the safety of the store and the animals were intact."

The request for dismissal was filed in Orange County Superior Court, online records show.

Davis, who is the West Coast director for the Companion Animals Protection Society, has been investigating the store and has alleged that some of the puppies sold there come from puppy mills. About 140 protesters, including Davis, attended a rally Aug. 7 in front of the shop.

On Thursday, court records show, Davis filed a SLAPP motion, which is a claim that she was exercising her right to freedom of speech in connection with the harassment claim. That motion has not been withdrawn, Feld said, and Bradford faces paying Davis' attorney fees, which are more than $5,000, if Davis prevails, he said.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 31.

"Carole wants to proceed with the action against Brooke, even though the action has been dropped," he said.

Davis was never served and never appeared in court on the matter, he said. "The tables certainly have been turned," he said, adding that the protesters and legal matters have taken a toll on Bradford and her business.

Davis' lawyer, Bryan Pease, said the SLAPP law isn't meant as a punishment but to compensate for billable hours spent on these types of cases.

"The defense of the restraining order has incurred a lot of time and energy, and the plaintiff in this type of suit that is designed to chill free speech is required to pay the legal fees of the defendant," he said.

When asked to comment, Davis issued the following statement via email:

"I don't speak for our attorneys, they are the legal experts. My expertise is puppy mills and the pet stores that keep them in business.

"I Heart Puppies needs to listen to the cries of OC's shelter animals who need homes, to the cries of dogs being tortured in pet factories and lastly, to the voice of the people who came out yesterday in the most powerful animal rights demonstration CdM has ever had in its history."


Coastal Commission approves Buck Gully plans

The Coastal Commission unanimously approved plans for an erosion project in lower Buck Gully at a meeting held Wednesday in Watsonville.

The project involves placing wire-mesh baskets filled with river rock in the lower part of Buck Gully and installing rock structures in the upper bend of the creek. The effort will divert run-off and could prevent homes from sliding down the hillside if a major storm caused serious erosion.

The project also will restore the area's natural habitat, which has undergone major changes since the 1990s when construction in Newport Coast changed the gully from mostly dry to mostly wet; read our earlier story here.