Blogger wins free speech battle, Cal Poly dean loses

May 21, 2011

Mohammad Noori


The former Cal Poly College of Engineering dean who filed a defamation lawsuit against numerous defendants and the university loses round one and is ordered to pay a defending San Luis Obispo blogger nearly $17,000 on the grounds of freedom of speech in the public interest.

“We might not like peoples’ opinions or point of view – but this is the reason we have the first amendment,” said the blogger, Roger Freberg, who won the anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) motion Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court and was awarded $16,958 for legal fees and his trouble, nearly $5,000 more than he asked for.

“The Saudi Arabia/Cal Poly issue was of social significance and it was very important to have it aired in the community,” Freberg continued.

In December, the former Cal Poly College of Engineering dean, Mohammad Noori, 57 at the time, launched a legal battle against Freberg and several other defendants: California State University Board of Trustees, Cal Poly, Cal Poly Interim Provost Robert Koob, Cal Poly Professor Unny Menon, and CalCoastNews Reporter and journalist Karen Velie claiming issues such as racial discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination.

Faced with Noori’s lawsuit which was served on Christmas Eve, Freberg filed an anti-SLAAP motion claiming the former Cal Poly dean was trying to censor, intimidate and silence him, by burdening him with the cost of a legal defense until he acquiesced.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jan Levine agreed with Freberg and ordered Noori to pay the blogger’s cost to defend himself, a typical result of a SLAAP victory. In her tentative ruling the judge said all of Noori’s claims against Freberg “all arise out of constitutionally protected speech in connection with an issue of public interest.”

Freberg said Noori’s attorneys tried to settle their suit against him prior to the May 17 hearing. But Freberg said he was not interested in the offer which would have required him to sanitize all mention of Noori from the blog, and agree to never speak or write about Noori in the future.

In California, bloggers are given more latitude in their writing than journalists because it is supposed that journalists are trained or educated about libel laws. If a person wants to make a claim against any arguably libelous material on a blog or news site they must first contact the site administrator and request removal of the content prior to filing suit, something Noori did not do.

In her tentative ruling Tuesday, Judge Levine said, “Plaintiff (Noori), failing to file any opposition, could not demonstrate any likelihood of prevailing on the merits.”

Meanwhile, CalCoastNews journalist Velie says she has not been served with the lawsuit although she has received letters from Noori’s San Marino based legal team, The Mathews Law Group, alluding to mounting and costly legal challenges against her if she does not agree to remove all mention of Noori from CalCoastNews.

“It is typically quite expensive and time consuming to hire an attorney and to defend against claims alleged against you,” said Attorney Deborah Hoetger in a letter to Velie.

“Our proposal is to provide you with the opportunity to be released from any potential legal liability for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress in exchange for the removal of all material from CalCoastNews that reference Dr. Noori in any way.”

Velie says she stands by her reporting so she refused the offer and will not have the articles mentioning Noori removed from CalCoastNews.

Following the ruling of Freberg’s anti-SLAPP motion, the judge also ruled in favor of a motion made by the California State University Board of Trustees that argued the case against them should not have been filed in Los Angeles County.

In his lawsuit, Noori cited a dozen allegations including racial and religious discrimination, harassment, defamation and wrongful termination.

Critics claimed Noori’s efforts were endorsing discrimination while his subsequent lawsuit contends he was being discriminated against for being Muslim. However, at an Academic Senate Executive Committee meeting a few years ago, Noori told attendees that he was not Muslim.

Noori said his complaints were prompted by his colleagues’ response and ensuing media coverage in 2008 surrounding his controversial efforts, later deemed unsuccessful, to negotiate with a university in Jubail, Saudi Arabia to help begin an engineering program there.

At issue was the fact that the Saudi proposal appeared to limit in a discriminatory manner those who could participate, as Velie reported in a February 14, 2008 CalCoastNews article headline, “An intriguing Cal Poly/Saudi project if you’re not a woman, Jewish or gay.”

The article detailed the proposed Cal Poly agreement to develop the engineering program at the Saudi university and uncovered a firestorm of controversy that was brewing over the fact that women, Jewish people and gays would be excluded. As Velie unveiled, the co-venture pitted a department head and a handful of administrators backing the project against an apparent majority of the Engineering College faculty.

In several posts on Freberg’s website,, the blogger used sarcasm as he commented in opposition of the proposed Saudi pact in articles such as “Cal Poly to marry 10 year old girls to older men! you won’t see this on Google, but maybe Yahoo!”  and “Who’s REALLY embarrassing Cal Poly?

Noori said he suffered loses in earnings and “continues to suffer embarrassment, humiliation, and mental anguish” for what transpired. In his lawsuit he alleges the defendants acted with an “evil motive.”

He is seeking punitive damages.

If Noori elects to continue his legal battle with any success, he needs to re-file in San Luis Obispo County.



  1. rogerfreberg says:

    I hear there is a great story… because I haven’t seen it… on the Cal Poly Mustang Daily today? Have you seen it?

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. rogerfreberg says:


    Some of you know reading Cal Coast News that I was sued recently for many blog posts directly related to the Jubail University – Cal Poly fiasco. Oh, don’t worry about me, it turned out really fine and I am ‘richer’ for the experience! It probably makes some sense to provide a very abridged version of what transpired. However, if you want more details you can search it on my blog ( or


    The discussion of the Cal Poly – Saudi Arabia educational effort for Jubail University brought up many concerns within and without the academic community: 1) Could a public university negotiate with another country (Saudi Arabia), 2) Would women, Jews and gays have the opportunity to teach in Saudi Arabia or would participation be restricted as has been sterotypical 3) Were Cal Poly degrees going to be awarded to Saudi citizens completing only a partial college program and 4) Why wasn’t there any real review of the proposed program internally or externally by the Faculty Curriculum Committee or other interested Cal Poly ‘stakeholders’?

    By the way, do I really need to talk about Saudi Arabia? This is a simple country with simple punishments, like of removing body parts for the sins of jay walking, back talking females and western ideas. A country that only utilizes 50% of their population intellectually, politically, socially and economically is troubled and destined ultimately to fail.

    Cal Poly earns national attention once again. It was uncovered that discussions between Cal Poly’s Administration and Saudi Arabia seemed to have almost reached competition when the university community finally got wind of it. Naturally, this raised a lot of displeasure and suspicion. One openly lesbian student, supported by both major student political parties, ran for Cal Poly student body President on a platform calling for a public review of the project and won election. Discussion on the Saudi issue went viral with many national news and blogging groups sharing all of our original concerns. It is safe to say that Cal Poly was once again savaged by the publicity and their reaction with a lack of transparency did nothing to help their case.

    What happened next? The Jubail University project either died a natural death, or maybe, it just went underground–I really don’t know. My hope is that Cal Poly will be more forthcoming and transparent in the future, but there are no checks and balances in this system, so another Jubail can happen again. Let’s just say, I have very little ‘hope.’ There is a reason that Cal Poly continues to have problems. Whether they are personnel, strategic or economic challenges, many public administrators are just not used to facing these things in their workday life. Managers in the private sector face these problems everyday and consequently, they tend to measure up when put to the challenge. I have always felt that the managerial approach at Cal Poly was a simple one: for a little problem use a little stick and for a big problem use a bigger one.

    There are more than one way to manage public relations, people, situations and crisis, but it was Cal Poly’s short sighted myopic approach that eventually did them in. Academic administrators are often not quite used to the realities of public scrutiny, freedom of speech, or the very free internet. In any event, when the actions of Cal Poly administrators were exposed, they behaved I believe in the classic style of the Nixonian White House; deny, evade, fabricate and – finally – panic. Not discussing the truth is an all too common response to a troubling situation.

    BTW, I guess the Saudi’s didn’t know Cal Poly had a pig farm? I thought that would have killed the deal.


    I don’t know exactly why some administrators feel they were singled out by me on the Jubail project, or by in the coverage of the Cal Poly – Saudi engagement; but the failure of the Jubail project did have the positive effect of causing some reshuffling in the administration’s ranks and, eventually I believe, this will create a new positive campus climate. In any event, there were obviously some hard feelings; but if they were looking for someone to blame they should’ve looked into the mirror, first, to find the culprit.

    This did not stop some very unprofessional things from happening. My wife was angrily confronted by the wife of an administrator, who yelled that my wife should be held responsible for my blog because her photo appears on it. It came to my ears that someone actually suggested she be fired. Silly boys, we’ve already had that dance. What happened next was even more bizarre; I was named in a lawsuit along with Cal Poly and’s Karen Velie for — as near as I could tell – wrongful termination of a Cal Poly administrator. Even though the complaint was with Cal Poly, I was amused to see that most of the writing seemed about me! Wow! I must be powerful and very cool, but then, I always knew that!

    There was one piece of humor that tickled me: the case was being wrangled for location, Cal Poly wanted to move the case up to San Luis Obispo from where it was originally filed in Los Angeles. Those representing Cal Poly got all nasty when I wouldn’t go along until my anti-SLAPP suit (already with a court date in L.A.) was heard. They even wanted me to help pay for the move, which was really only a convenience for them, funny boys and girls.


    There were a few folks on “the very wacky fringes” that thought “Roger’s gone too far, he’s going to get it now!” These are the same folks that think any speech or an opinion that isn’t consistent with theirs – by definition – is “hate speech.” What they probably didn’t realize is that California leads the way in the protection of “free speech” and “freedom of the press” and that is just the way it is, even reinforcing freedom of blogs on the internet. If you get sued, there is this little thing called an anti-SLAPP suit that you can bring against the person suing you. This legal action forces the person suing you to prove that they have a chance of winning — good luck on that one. If they lose the anti-SLAAP, you recover your legal fees, which of course, we did. In fact, we got a court ordered nice five figure sum! Holy Heritage Financial!

    The only question I have now is: do I want another Harley or a used Humvee?


    So, let me be the first to remind all those would-be censors and say, “This is AMERICA, Jack.”! And let me add that The Bill of Rights and freedom of the press and free speech is something worth defending…. Worth all of us defending, because you never know when your speech may be deemed ‘evil’ and someone might want to censor you or remove a body part!

    Without the right to speak freely, all of our rights become meaningless.

    Thanks to all those who stood tall.

    (11) 13 Total Votes - 12 up - 1 down
    • r0y says:

      Here, here! Harumph!

      (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • amusselm says:

      You know, I didn’t quite think about it this way before, but… Rodger Freberg being on the same side of a court case as Cal Poly? Two years ago I might have considered that impossible, or at the least highly unlikely.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  3. willie says:

    Mohammad Noori – esssentric
    Pride/ arrogance preceed the fall

    (13) 15 Total Votes - 14 up - 1 down
  4. cheseburger says:

    Way to go roger, I always knew you would prevail, three cheers for Velie and free speech!

    (13) 15 Total Votes - 14 up - 1 down
  5. jimmy_me says:

    Noori’s actions typify the general arrogance and the “emperor’s new clothes” attitude of Cal Poly administrators. Score a rare victory for honesty and the ability to speak the truth in a public setting.

    (41) 47 Total Votes - 44 up - 3 down
  6. Cindy says:

    LMAO – Way to go, “Roger Freberg”. As for Velie, they don’t want to pay her attorney fee’s, so much so that they named her but were afraid to serve her!

    Find me one story she ever did that anyone can sue her for?

    (40) 48 Total Votes - 44 up - 4 down
    • Cindy says:

      correction: “Find me one story she ever did that anyone can “successfully” sue her for?

      The truth is often stranger than fiction. How about that?

      (20) 26 Total Votes - 23 up - 3 down
      • hotdog says:

        I hope all who challenge CCN will go the way of gearhead, way down. Noori should have been fired a long time ago.

        (32) 38 Total Votes - 35 up - 3 down
        • SLOBIRD says:

          No, he should never have been hired.

          (12) 16 Total Votes - 14 up - 2 down
  7. bobfromsanluis says:

    Am I the only one so far who doesn’t seem to be misreading the reporting here? CCN is not off the hook yet, if I am following the story correctly; it seems that the lawsuit against CCN hasn’t been served YET, but it still could be. I do feel that Noori is completely wrong and that the ruling by the judge would seem to have told Noori that his suit was frivolous and as such, the entire rest of his case has dubious merit, but until there is notice that the entire attempt is dropped, or at least the part against CCN, Noori could still file and serve his lawsuit. I am keeping my fingers crossed for CCN and do believe that if Noori does serve notice that his has filed he will not be able to make a case in court. Good luck Karen.

    (13) 23 Total Votes - 18 up - 5 down
    • r0y says:

      True, but from his perspective, he’s now a few tens-of-grand in the hole and Cal Poly got out of it. At some point his attorneys really need to recommend dropping (or not filing/pursuing) the suit against the others.

      The case is obviously a “loser” for the attorneys, which I’m sure they’ll still represent him (for a nice fee); but I doubt Noori is going to pursue this.

      (19) 21 Total Votes - 20 up - 1 down
  8. SLOChuck says:

    Congradulations on round one CCN and friends,hopefully this will be the end of this fiasco.

    (23) 25 Total Votes - 24 up - 1 down
  9. racket says:

    Hey CalCoast — Forget about the DONATE button, I think I’ve found an answer to your cash flow situation ;-).

    (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down

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