An Orange County Superior Court judge on Thursday denied a motion by a Huntington Beach blogger who argued that a school board member’s legal actions against him unfairly limited his right to criticize an elected official.
Judge Sheila Recio denied HB Sledgehammer publisher Chuck Johnson’s anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation, or anti-SLAPP, motion, against Ocean View School District trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin. SLAPP cases are considered an attempt to intimidate critics by burdening them with the costs of a legal defense.
Recio called the motion “moot” in a tentative ruling.
Johnson wanted a judge to determine whether Clayton-Tarvin purposely tried to stifle his right to criticize an elected official by falsely claiming he threatened her with physical, rather than metaphoric, harm on his blog and social media and in a school board meeting.
Clayton-Tarvin argued that the criticisms were more like threats. The trustee requested a permanent restraining order against the blogger, which was denied by Judge Timothy J. Stafford May 9.
“As I have maintained throughout these proceedings, and as the California Supreme Court has repeatedly stated, threats of violence are not constitutionally protected speech, and there has never been any merit to Johnson's anti-SLAPP motion,” Clayton-Tarvin said Friday in a prepared statement.
Johnson and his attorney, Chad Morgan, could not be reached for comment. However, in previous interviews Johnson has maintained his posts and comments were never threatening and that Clayton-Tarvin was just trying to stifle political criticism protected by the 1st Amendment.
A hearing on the motion was originally scheduled in June but was postponed by Judge Timothy J. Stafford to allow each party’s attorney to submit new case documents.
Johnson’s petition argued that Clayton-Tarvin’s request for a restraining order, which was denied May 9 by Stafford, should be rejected if she failed to “provide sufficient evidence” to demonstrate how Johnson's criticisms were meant as actual threats.