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Last month, State Sen. Catherine Blakespear filed an anti-SLAPP motion claiming several constituents abridged her First Amendment rights. The Coast News graphic
Last month, State Sen. Catherine Blakespear filed an anti-SLAPP motion claiming several constituents abridged her First Amendment rights. The Coast News graphic
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Blakespear drops countersuit, files anti-SLAPP against constituents

ENCINITAS — Shortly after the Nov. 8 election, State Sen. Catherine Blakespear withdrew a counterclaim against several constituents in a censorship lawsuit and has since filed a motion to strike the complaint under California’s anti-strategic lawsuits against public participation, or anti-SLAPP, statute.

The former Encinitas mayor’s now-defunct cross-complaint was entered in response to a lawsuit against Blakespear on Sept. 28 for blocking certain residents’ public comments on her mayoral Facebook page and allegedly breaching the terms of a settlement agreement.

The residents seek $5,000, a public apology and attorney’s fees.

Four days before Election Day, Blakespear countersued Carlsbad attorney Michael Curran and five Encinitas residents — Robert Nichols, Garvin Walsh, Jordan Marks, Stephen Meiche and Matthew Wheeler — claiming they leaked settlement terms to The Coast News in violation of the agreement’s confidentiality clause.

Three days after the election and holding a slight lead over then-Republican challenger Matt Gunderson, Blakespear dropped most of the plaintiffs from her countersuit, leaving only Nichols and Curran. Shortly after that, Blakespear withdrew the cross-complaint entirely.

“Politicians silencing their citizens is bad for our country,” said Rancho Santa Fe attorney Carla DiMare, who represents the plaintiffs. “Blakespear suppressed her constituents’ free speech rights, which violated the law. When confronted with her abuse, she settled but then arrogantly breached the settlement agreement, which caused this lawsuit. For political reasons, she then filed bogus cross-complaints against her constituents and their former lawyer. Days after the election, she dismissed her cross-complaints because she knew they had no merit.”


Last month, the state lawmaker’s attorney filed an anti-SLAPP motion, claiming Blakespear’s May 21 public apology on social media complied with the settlement agreement and was protected speech that “qualifies for the protections of California’s anti-SLAPP laws.”

California’s anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 1992 to shield individuals and businesses from meritless lawsuits intended to silence views on matters of public interest through expensive and time-consuming litigation.

“Despite what they claim, it is clear that plaintiffs’ lawsuit is a politically motivated attempt to abridge my First Amendment speech rights,” Blakespear told The Coast News in a statement. “I look forward to the matter being resolved by the court in our favor.”

Richard Rios, Blakespear’s attorney, argues no provision in the settlement agreement dictates how the public official should apologize, giving her “ultimate discretion over how to draft her apology.”

“…Plaintiffs seek a court order forcing Ms. Blakespear to post a public statement that is to their satisfaction, essentially compelling her to make statements that she does not wish to make and restricting her from issuing her public apology in her own words,” Rios wrote in a court filing. “There is nothing in the settlement agreement that entitles plaintiffs to that relief.”

Residents reportedly blocked from participating on Mayor Catherine Blakespear's Facebook page have filed a new legal notice with the city seeking an apology and $5,000. The Coast News graphic
State Sen. Catherine Blakespear has filed an anti-SLAPP motion claiming a group of residents has abridged her First Amendment rights. The Coast News graphic

DiMare argues Blakespear agreed to give an apology and has “no claim for duress” since she “knew what she was signing.” Additionally, DiMare said the state senator does not have anti-SLAPP protections since she was acting as a government official, not a private citizen when she blocked her critics and issued a public apology, all of which was done from her mayoral Facebook page.

DiMare cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos that determined public employees do not have First Amendment protection for speech issued as part of their official duties.

“Blakespear’s (anti-SLAPP) motion is backward,” DiMare wrote. “She is the one who chilled and censored free speech rights on her mayoral social media, not the other way around.”

On the other side, Rios claims the California Supreme Court has ruled that government officials are protected by the state’s anti-SLAPP statute “just like private citizens.”

In North County, Democratic lawmakers have struggled to land on the right side of anti-SLAPP motions. For example, in March 2021, a Vista judge granted two men’s anti-SLAPP motion against then-Carlsbad City Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, ending a seven-month-long legal battle to determine whether political speech rose to the level of harassment. Schumacher resigned amidst a recall effort launched after the court ruled that she had violated residents’ constitutional free speech rights.

In February 2021, Robert Leahy, a former campaign employee of Oceanside candidate Michelle Gomez, won his anti-SLAPP motion after Gomez sued him for defamation.

Apology and Payment

According to the complaint, after signing the agreement, Blakespear allegedly breached the deal in two ways — failing to issue a requisite public apology and improperly making a $5,000 payment drawn from campaign funds instead of her personal finances.

In May 2022, Blakespear issued an apology in a Facebook post, which was promptly pilloried as “disingenuous” by critics online, and paid $5,000 to Curran & Curran Law from her “Blakespear for Mayor 2020” campaign fund.

Blakespear later filed Form 460s showing her payment to Curran & Curran Law.

Under the agreement, the payment amount “shall remain confidential except for any legally required disclosures.” DiMare argues that Blakespear violated this clause by using campaign funds to pay a personal debt and later revealing the exact settlement amount in campaign finance statements.

Blakespear's Form 460 filed with the City of Encinitas shows a $5,000 outstanding balance to Curran & Curran Law. Screenshot
A Form 460 filed with the City of Encinitas on May 26, 2022, shows a $5,000 outstanding balance to Curran & Curran Law for professional services drawn from the “Blakespear for Mayor 2020” campaign fund.
The next month, Blakespear's campaign filings show the $5,000 payment was made to Curran & Curran Law. Screenshot
Subsequent campaign filings for “Blakespear for Mayor 2020” show a $5,000 payment was made to Curran & Curran Law.

While candidates are legally obligated to report expenditures, Blakespear’s use of campaign funds to pay a personal debt “was inconsistent with the terms of the settlement agreement” and not a “legally required disclosure,” according to the complaint.

“It is central to this case that Blakespear pay the $5,000, not her defunct campaign,” DiMare wrote. “In short, filing a Form 460 violated the terms of the agreement that required Blakespear pay the $5,000, and it violated the confidentiality provision.”

The parties have not entered into mediation to resolve the matter out of court. Court documents show Blakespear’s lawyer informed DiMare via email that they had “no interest in mediation.”

“We would settle if (Blakespear) just paid $5,000 and attorney fees and made a public apology,” DiMare said. “She could easily end this — remove this case from the court system — by honoring the agreement.”

CORRECTION: A previous version stated Cori Schumacher was facing a recall vote when she resigned. Schumacher was facing a recall effort and a potential recall vote. 

1 comment

steve333 January 13, 2023 at 5:07 pm

Catherine Blakespear is a corrupt sleazebag. Shame on anyone who voted for her simply because she is a woman or simply because she is a Democrat or both.
Rewarding her corruption, fealty to developers, outright lying, ineptness and clear disregard for her constituents is truly a disgrace.

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