Judge throws out Westlake High basketball coach’s suit against parent


A Westlake Village parent who publicly called his son’s former varsity basketball coach a child abuser and tax evader was exercising his free-speech rights and cannot be found liable for libel, a judge has ruled.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Tari Cody tossed out a $1-million civil lawsuit filed last November by Robert Bloom, the Westlake High School coach who alleged that the boy’s father, James Clark, was trying to ruin his life by sending out derogatory emails about him to school officials and community members.




July 29, 10:11 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled Judge Tari Cody’s last name as Codi and incorrectly referred to her as a man.


Cody, in a June 5 ruling, said that the emails were “absolutely privileged” under a state law that protects the right of citizens to complain to public authorities.

Clark had alleged that Bloom verbally abused his son, Sully, and failed to pay him or give him a promised letter of recommendation after working nearly 100 hours in the coach’s summer basketball camp. Bloom has denied most of the charges, saying the hours worked by student athletes were used to offset player participation fees.

On Tuesday, Clark said he was gratified by the ruling.

“This really helps parents and alerts schools and coaches that parents really intend to protect their kids from abusive situations,” Clark said.


Bloom and his attorney, James. P. Thompson, could not be reached for comment.

Bloom became head varsity basketball coach at Westlake High in 2011-12 and steered the team to two Marmonte League championships during the next two years, according to the Maxpreps sports website. But Clark alleged in emails to school officials and others that the coach evaded taxes and violated child labor laws in connection with his nonprofit Westlake Sports Camp he ran on rented school facilities.

The camp reportedly has shut down.

Clark also alleged that Bloom swore at his players and called them derogatory names, such as “worthless” and “loser.” In a previous interview with The Times, the coach’s attorney, Thompson, acknowledged one such occasion but said Bloom had apologized for it.

In his civil lawsuit, the coach alleged that Clark knew “his claims related to Westlake Sports Camp are phony and meant to defame, damage and destroy” his professional reputation. He also said that Clark “has the right to be a jerk,” but crossed the line when he publicly called him a fraud, cheat, tax evader, crook and child abuser.

Cody, however, disagreed. In her decision, she cited previous court rulings that the law protecting complaints to government officials was “designed to provide the utmost freedom of communication between citizens and public authorities whose responsibility is to investigate wrongdoing.”

That law was enacted more than two decades ago after real estate developers and other parties began frequently suing critics in what the California Legislature feared would chill federal and state constitutional rights of petition and free speech. Under the law, those sued in connection to free speech involving a public issue can move to strike the lawsuit.

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