Torres unable to refute theft claims
September 4, 2013
By CALCOASTNEWS STAFF
Attorneys argued Tuesday over allegations of malice and the theft of gift cards from homeless clients during a hearing regarding a slander lawsuit filed by a homeless services manager against an Atascadero private investigator.
In depositions, Dee Torres claimed that gift cards were not donated to homeless services until after 2003 and that she had not been called a thief prior to a CalCoastNews’ investigation in which dozens of former co-workers, friends and spouses confirmed allegations of mismanagement or misappropriation.
Attorney Stew Jenkins responded to Torres’ claims by noting an email, sent 10 years ago, in which Torres’ ex-boyfriend addresses her as the thief of the Prado Day Center. In addition, a deposition from a former manager at the homeless center rebuked Torres’ claim that gift cards were never donated until after 2003.
Torres, director of homeless services for the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), filed suit against Mike Brennler in March, claiming he defamed her during a phone conversation with her former husband, Charles Barber. Torres alleges that Brennler defamed her by telling Barber that she stole money from clients at the homeless shelter, as well as from former CAPSLO client Cliff Anderson.
At the time of the alleged defamation, Brennler was assisting CalCoastNews with an investigation into the treatment of homeless persons in San Luis Obispo County.
Jenkins said that the plaintiff was unable to prove malice or that the allegations of theft are untrue. In order for a public figure to prove slander, the alleged statement must be provably false and said with actual malice.
Ogden said Tuesday that Brennler displayed malice by, amid his investigation, contacting Almiorl, who had “hatred” for Torres. Ogden said Almirol spent six months in jail for abusing Torres, and then using the courts to dominate her time.
Jenkins countered that “talking to biased witnesses does not demonstrate any malice.”
Additionally, Jenkins said that scores of people with whom Brennler spoke during his investigation, aside from Almirol, confirmed allegations of “misappropriation of donations and charitable funds intended for the homeless.”
Ogden said that “Brennler had serious doubts” about the allegations when he called Barber and maintained that the private investigator lied about Torres.
Last month, LaBarbera issued a tentative ruling in favor of an anti-SLAPP motion filed by Jenkins. The anti-SLAPP motion seeks a dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds that it was filed to silence criticism.
If LaBarbera stays with his tentative ruling, Torres will likely have to pay Brennler’s legal fees.
LaBarbera said Tuesday that he would rule on the case in a day or two.