LaBarbera thinks Brennler constitutionally protected
August 21, 2013
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge, in a tentative ruling, is planning to uphold an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss a slander lawsuit brought by a homeless services official against Mike Brennler, a North County private investigator.
Judge Barry LaBarbera’s office posted his tentative ruling online late Wednesday afternoon.
According to the tentative ruling, Dee Torres, director of the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO) alleged that Brennler “in a March 2013 telephone conversation with Torres’ ex-husband Charles Barber, stated (Torres) had been stealing money from a homeless man named Cliff Anderson.” Torres is represented by San Luis Obispo attorney Roy Ogden.
LaBarbera noted that facts presented thus far suggest that Brennler’s alleged actions and comments are protected under a host of state and U.S. constitutional protections.
The matter is scheduled for a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing in LaBarbera’s San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Brennler’s special motion to strike.
SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” It is the label applied to lawsuits filed against critics or opponents to prevent them from being involved in controversies. California, as well as many other states, have laws that allow the people being sued to go to court to have the SLAPP suit dismissed.
One local legal source said a tentative ruling “is just that — tentative. It’s what the judge is thinking at that moment, and it gives a little time for the attorneys to hone their arguments.”
Brennler is represented by SLO attorney Stew Jenkins.
LaBarbara said the issues surrounding the county’s homeless situation are undeniably of public interest.
Therefore, he wrote, “the burden now shifts to (Torres) to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on her defamation cause. (She) must make a prima facie showing of facts that would support a judgment in her favor.”
Part of the tentative ruling suggested that as a result of her position as spokesperson for CAPSLO’s homeless activities and other county endeavors, Torres is a public figure — an allegation which she had disputed.
The lawsuit had left open the possibility that CalCoastNews, KVEC920’s Dave Congalton, his employers, and CalCoastNews sources might be included in the lawsuit at a later date.