Torres untruthful in slander case documents, new court filings say
August 19, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The slander suit filed by CAPSLO’s Homeless Services Director Dee Torres took a new turn when defendant Mike Brennler submitted a case document on Friday saying that Torres was not truthful in her sworn statement to the court.
Ralph Almirol, an ex-boyfriend of Torres who claims she has pilfered from the homeless, also swore that Torres’ own declaration included false statements.
Torres filed a slander suit against Brennler in March alleging that he slandered her in a telephone conversation with her former husband, Charles Barber. Brennler, a private investigator, was working with CalCoastNews as it investigated the treatment of the homeless in San Luis Obispo County.
In its series, “Keeping Them Homeless,” CalCoastNews has reported on ways in which homeless persons in the county have been victimized by the agencies that are supposed to serve them.
Torres has asserted in her suit that she is a “private person.” In libel and slander law, “private persons” have a much easier standard of proof to meet when suing. All libel and slander plaintiffs must prove that the defendant was at fault, that is to say the defendant was legally responsible for the harm they caused.
“Private persons” need only prove that the defendant was negligent in libeling or slandering them. “Public figures,” persons who have pervasive fame or notoriety or who are public officials, must meet a tougher standard of responsibility. A “public figure” must prove that the defendant libeled or slandered them either knowing that what they said was false or making the false statement with the knowledge that it probably was false.
It is difficult to prove actual knowledge of falsity or probable falsity in such cases. In her court filings, Torres said that she was not a public figure, either as a public official or because she is widely known.
In a declaration, which Torres signed on July 15, she states that she did not seek a position on the San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services Oversight Council.
“Exhibit 104 shows that I was appointed by the County to the Homeless Service Oversight Council,” Torres states in her declaration. “I did not campaign for or seek that position, and was required as part of my job to accept the appointment.”
Brennler responded with a declaration filed on Friday that states Torres “controverts” her own words by claiming she did not “campaign or seek” to be a member of HSOC.
“Exhibit A-1 is the publicly available copy of Dee Torres’s three-page application she used to apply for the Homeless Service Oversight Committee,” Brennler states in his filing. “I contend that it shows plaintiff did campaign and seek this public office.”
On December 8, 2012, Torres filed an application with the county for appointment to the Homeless Services Oversight Council (HSOC). The application is available on the county website as an attachment to a staff report for the January 29 SLO Board of Supervisors meeting in which Torres received her appointment to HSOC.
In the application, Torres stated that, if necessary, she would file a statement of disclosure as a public official.
“Should you be appointed, are you willing, if necessary for that particular body, to file a statement of disclosure as a public official under the standards set forth by the Fair Political Practice Commission,” the application asked.
Torres checked the “Yes” box following the question and was appointed.
A second way Torres runs the risk of being designated as a “public figure” is through fame or notoriety, especially in relation to her involvement with homeless issues.
Also as part of her application, Torres submitted a four-paragraph explanation of her qualifications for the position.
“I believe that my passion, knowledge and direct experience working with this population can provide a voice which is unique and beneficial to the Council,” Torres wrote in requesting the appointment to HSOC.
Torres also contends that she is not a public figure even though she is the media spokesperson for CAPSLO’s homeless services. About eight years ago, Torres ordered homeless services’ staffers to no longer speak with the media. Instead, all questions are to go through Torres.
“Although I do get inquiries from the media a few times a year, I do not have regular and ready access to the media,” Torres writes in her declaration.
However, Torres regularly appears on local news shows, radio stations and is often quoted in newspaper articles. Over the past year and a half, Torres has appeared on or has been quoted in at least 22 stories appearing in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, KCOY and KSBY. She also has appeared a number of times in stories published by CalCoastNews.
Torres’ status as either a “private person” or “public figure” is a matter to be decided by the judge.
Torres faces a significant hurdle in her slander suit later this week. Defense attorney Stew Jenkins filed an anti-SLAPP which will be heard by the judge on Thursday.
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.
Brennler said at the time that Torres filed her suit, that it was an attempt to stop inquiries into practices being carried out by homeless service providers. In addition to the slander suit against Brennler, CAPSLO threatened to sue more than a dozen persons who provided CalCoastNews with information about wrongdoing at the nonprofit.
On Friday, CalCoastNews reported that Torres’s fiancé, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, has tried to convince a key witness, Ralph Almirol, in the case to change his story about Torres’ use of gift cards donated for homeless.
Almirol also challenged the truthfulness of Torres’ statement in her slander suit.
“Her statement that ‘I have never taken a gift card donated to the CAPSLO (or any of its programs including the shelter) or any gift card intended for a homeless client’ is untrue,” Almirol wrote in his sworn statement.