An Orange County Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a school board member’s petition for a permanent restraining order against a Huntington Beach blogger.
Attorney Jeffrey W. Shields filed the petition on behalf of Ocean View School District trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin, 46, who alleged in court documents that Charles Keeler Johnson, 56, has threatened her on social media and at school board meetings, causing her to “fear for my own safety and for that of my immediate family members.”
Johnson, who goes by “Chuck” and publishes HBSledgehammer.com, said the trustee tried to stifle his freedom of speech. He also contended that Clayton-Tarvin took his blog posts and Facebook comments too seriously and out of context, saying anyone who is “afraid of metaphors has serious issues.”
Judge Timothy J. Stafford, who approved the temporary order March 26, called the school board member’s petition “weak,” adding that Clayton-Tarvin knew the consequences of elected office.
He had criticism for Johnson as well.
“I’m not impressed with (his) explanation on why things were written the way they were,” Stafford said, adding he didn’t want to see either party return to court.
Johnson’s attorney, Chad Morgan, said he was pleased Stafford recognized the importance of the 1st Amendment.
On Wednesday evening Johnson issued what he said would be his only statement on the matter.
“I am thankful to have prevailed today,” he said. “This entire episode is incredibly difficult for my family. The idea that an elected official would go to these lengths to silence a private citizen should frighten everyone. But as we have seen for several years, Gina Clayton Tarvin has a history of retaliating against critics with threats, intimidation and now these baseless lawsuits.”
Clayton-Tarvin and Shields denied requests for comment.
Additional information on the “lawsuits” referenced in Johnson’s statement was not immediately available.
During the hearing, Clayton-Tarvin said Johnson repeatedly disrupted an Ocean View school board meeting March 6, where he was removed by armed security and kept outside until he was again allowed to speak during a second public comment period.
Johnson apologized but later became agitated and told Clayton-Tarvin, “They want your head on a stick” and “I’m going to give it to them,” Clayton-Tarvin said in her court filing.
Jim Choate, the district’s director of facilities, testified that at the March 6 meeting he asked Johnson to leave the room after becoming what he described as aggressive. Johnson, Choate said, got into a “cock fight” position, hunching his shoulders forward, and leading him to believe he was prepared to take a swing at him.
Clayton-Tarvin said Johnson had threatened to harm “the entire Tarvin family,” which caused her to fear for her well-being because she lives with her two sons.
Johnson explained that he had a “dark sense of humor” but was referring to her supporters, not her actual family.
In one instance, where he wrote he would drop a “cluster bomb,” Johnson explained he didn’t have aircraft. What he meant, Johnson said, was that he had a gift coming her way in the form of a blog post, exposing what he argued were Clayton-Tarvin’s distortions about her firsthand experiences with school violence and lockdowns, which she described during the March 6 meeting.
Johnson acknowledged a comment he made about an anonymous bomb threat was “stupid and deleted it” within seconds but some of Clayton-Tarvin’s supporters took a screenshot.
Asked how the issue between the two began, Johnson told Stafford he took offense to and became vocal about Clayton-Tarvin’s “left-leaning ideology.”
Ocean View School trustee Norm Westwell testified that Clayton-Tarvin doesn’t have “thick skin.”
“How do you know that? Do you observe it yourself?” Stafford asked.
Westwell said she becomes defensive and takes criticism personally during board meetings.
Westwell painted a different picture of the March 6 meeting, saying Johnson was not escorted out by security but walked out on his own.
Clayton-Tarvin, who was elected in 2012, has been involved in longstanding feuds on social media. She has an ample number of both supporters and critics.
This is the second time in recent years she has unsuccessfully requested a restraining order against a vocal critic. In 2017, the district petitioned for a temporary restraining order on her behalf against an activist opposed to illegal immigration.
For his part, Johnson vowed to continue battling Clayton-Tarvin in civil court, if necessary.
“I believe the 1st Amendment is our most sacred right as Americans, and so my fight now continues in the next phase of her lawsuit against me,” he said. “That said I would like everyone to remember, I believe she’s doing this not just to silence me, but to send a message to any and all future critics. But today has proven she can be defeated.”
He also thanked supporters and vowed “that this is far from over.”