Guild joins other press-freedom advocates backing SLAPP victim appealing court’s defamation finding

In a matter with press-freedom implications, the Guild and several other organizations are joining the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in seeking authorization to file an amicus brief supporting a woman appealing a Sacramento County Superior Court finding that a complaint of sexual harassment against a California assemblyman was defamatory.

Pamela Lopez is asking the state Court of Appeal in Sacramento to reverse the lower court’s verdict that she had defamed then-Assemblyman Matthew Dababneh when she formally complained to the Assembly that he had gratuitously masturbated in front of her and when she repeated the accusation at a press conference.

(Case is before the Court of Appeal’s Third Appellate District as Matthew Dababneh, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Pamela Lopez, Defendant-Appellant, 3rd Civ. No. C088848. Superior Court case number is 34-2018 00238699.)

The brief, submitted on June 10, argues that Dababneh’s court action constituted a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a tactic that public officials use to chill public discussion, including news media coverage, of questionable conduct. Courts in California and elsewhere have consistently held that SLAPPs violate the First Amendment.

How soon the appellate court will decide whether to accept the brief is anyone’s guess because Dababneh is opposing it and other amicus briefs supporting Lopez.

Dababneh is arguing, among other things, that the RCFP is “launch(ing) out on a judicial expedition” rather than “tak(ing) the case as it finds it,” and that only one of the six attorneys submitting the brief, Katie Townsend, is licensed to practice law in California. Townsend is on the RCFP staff.

“We think his arguments are frivolous and do not warrant a response, and so we do not intend to file one,” Caitlin Vogus, another RCFP staff attorney, told me.

Also joining the brief are the California News Publishers Association, The Center for Investigative Reporting (dba Reveal), the First Amendment Coalition, the International Documentary Association, the Media Alliance, The Media Institute, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the National Press Photographers Association, The News Leaders Association, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Syracuse University-based Tully Center for Free Speech.

Richard Knee
Chair, Guild Legislative and Political Committee

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Pacific Media Workers Guild

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