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Judge Awards SUSD Trustee $19K in Defamation Suit

December 7, 2021 at 8:52 pm

By Miriam Waldvogel

A San Joaquin County judge awarded Stockton Unified Trustee AngelAnn Flores more than $19,000 in attorney’s fees last week, using a free-speech statute to dismiss a lawsuit brought against her by three other members of the board.

Trustees Cecilia Mendez, Alicia Rico, and Ray Zulueta sued Flores in July, alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, and infliction of emotional distress as a result of comments she made during board meetings. They charged that Flores had harassed them and accused them of having ties to former Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva and sanctioning corrupt hiring practices. (Read the full complaint here).

The three trustees sought up to $20 million in damages. However, they also requested to dismiss the case in September. This came just two days after Flores requested to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects people from being sued for exercising their free speech rights in connection with a public issue. SLAPP lawsuits (standing for strategic lawsuits against public participation) are designed to pressure people into silence by burdening them with attorney’s fees.

Since most of Flores’ comments were made during meetings of the board, a public body, they were considered protected under the statute, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Jayne Lee ruled in dismissing the lawsuit. Read her full ruling here.

Additionally, the court held that Mendez, Rico, and Zulueta did not provide adequate proof of their accusations, failing to show that Flores’ comments were both false and damaging. The three will now be responsible for a total of $19,608 in her legal expenses.

In July, a county grand jury released a report condemning the board for its frequent use of complaints and censures against trustees in its voting minority, which includes Flores. The board has largely ignored the report, censuring Flores for a fourth time just days after. Beyond the report, the board has had an extended history of dysfunction and chaos, with meetings frequently puncuated by yelling and insults. Community members (along with the grand jury) have charged that Flores is often not given adequate time to speak, while members of the board majority have called her disruptive.

In a statement, Flores called the lawsuit “the latest petty and unsuccessful attack in a shameful pattern of harassment and intimidation that families, community leaders, and even the Civil Grand Jury have denounced.”

An attorney for Mendez, Rico, and Zulueta did not respond to a request for comment.