Torres’ price for attempting to silence public debate

October 11, 2013
Dee Torres

Dee Torres


Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo’s homeless services director’s attempt to stifle free speech could end up costing her an additional $41,930 for her opponent’s legal fees.

In September, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera dismissed Dee Torres’ lawsuit against Mike Brennler, a private investigator who had been working with CalCoastNews on articles about abuses of the homeless. LaBarbera found that Brennler’s statements were protected free speech and that Torres was unlikely to prevail in her suit.

At the conclusion of the hearing, LaBarbera ordered Brennler’s attorney Stew Jenkins to prepare, file, and serve a proposed judgment for legal fees.

“My work here has achieved a great deal,” Jenkins said in the fee motion he filed Wednesday. “Not only has it successfully protected the defendant, it has beat back a dark cold spreading chill perpetrated by this litigation against investigative reporting, press freedom and witness freedom to report facts and circumstances about public programs that are of important public interest within San Luis Obispo County.”

Torres filed the slander lawsuit earlier this year claiming Brennler defamed her character by repeating statements from multiple sources who said Torres pilfered gift cards, clothing and household items donated to the homeless.

Jenkins, who took the case without a retainer, battled back telling the court Torres had filed a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) aimed at silencing free speech through intimidation.

California’s anti-SLAPP statute serves to counteract the chilling effect that arises from overaggressive plaintiffs’ use of the judicial process. If a judge determines the lawsuit was an attempt to stifle free speech, the plaintiff is required to pay the defendant’s attorney fees and costs.

On April 11, several weeks after Torres filed her lawsuit against Brennler, an advertisement for a public relations professional to help change public opinion was placed on Cragslist, using the SlanderGuard logo On the same day, SlanderGuard posted a link to a San Luis Obispo Tribune article about Torres’ lawsuit on its FaceBook page, where the public relation’s firm appears to highlight its clients.

Shortly afterwards, posts began appearing on several online blogs with numerous demeaning and false allegations about Brennler and CalCoastNews staff.

“Torres’ aggressive attempts to abuse the discovery process in the anti-SLAPP proceeding subjected defendant to additional defense work and fees to successfully prosecute the motion,” Brennler says in his declaration. “It would have wiped me out financially and I would have had to risk losing my home to be able to field a defense to the frivolous suit brought against me by plaintiff attacking citizens’ rights to free speech, press, petition, consultation and instruction.”


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If the $42,000 is the amount of the “going to court costs” who is obligated to pay this? I know it is the one that lost the suit. My concern is that due to the fact that funds are partially provided by the the BoS to pay Torres salary will the BoS allocate $ to help her pay this judgement?

Will our county $ be used to pay these fees? How would we the public know if our county $ are used or not used? I think this is a valid question.

With the 3 newly united in ideology board members, this concerns me.

I think some of the folks are continuing to miss the point here.

The young woman was unable to prove she had a chance to win in her suit and now she is going to have to pay for the expenses of the person she sued.

BTW, It matters little how much time is spent in the legal system…. it is how much preparation has to be made ( in legal costs) in investigating the charges and constructing the SLAAP suit. Its easy to run up a big bill. Someone said they thought $2500 should be tops…well, that is wishful thinking at best… unless the local legal beagles work for less than minimum wage. If the expenses run up to $42,000… well, that is what the judge should consider.

Someone claimed to understand SLAAP suits…. but since we don’t know that persons name… it is merely a claim.

As for my situation, the money I received took me on a fabulous vacation… figure it out.