A state appeals court has dismissed before trial a $1-million defamation suit filed by a member of the state’s Little Hoover Commission against state Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti.
Lester O’Shea filed the suit last year, asserting that the Los Angeles Democrat had defamed him by calling him a racist.
However, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled unanimously Tuesday that Roberti’s statements about O’Shea were absolutely protected as statements of opinion under the First Amendment.
Roberti made his statements during a speech and press conference in the spring of 1984, while criticizing Gov. George Deukmejian for appointing O’Shea, a San Francisco property manager, to the watchdog commission.
Roberti said he concluded that O’Shea was a racist after reading portions of O’Shea’s 1980 book, “Tampering With the Machinery: Roots of Economic and Political Malaise.” O’Shea’s attorney, Shand Stephens, has said that Roberti took phrases, which had been identified in the book as folklore, out of context.
The dismissal came on appeal of a ruling by Superior Court Judge Norman Epstein, who had ordered a trial to determine whether Roberti’s statements were protected assertions of opinion.
Roberti’s attorney, Allan Browne, hailed the appeals court action, saying, “The right of a legislator to speak out freely on important public issues, such as political appointments, is critical to the viability of the First Amendment.”