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Mayor Catherine Blakespear issued a public apology over the weekend, which residents and critics called "disingenuous" and "victim-blaming." Courtesy photo
Mayor Catherine Blakespear issued a public apology over the weekend, which residents and critics called "disingenuous" and "victim-blaming." Courtesy photo
Cities Elections 2022 Encinitas Encinitas Featured News Politics & Government

Residents threaten lawsuit after Blakespear’s ‘disingenuous’ Facebook apology

ENCINITAS — Mayor Catherine Blakespear and the City of Encinitas are now under threat of legal action after the 38th State Senate District candidate issued what some residents called a “disingenuous” public apology over the weekend as part of a settlement agreement for blocking her critics on social media, attorneys familiar with the matter informed The Coast News. 

Michael Curran, attorney at Carlsbad-based law firm Curran & Curran Law who represents more than a dozen of residents who were reportedly barred from Blakespear’s social media pages, told The Coast News his clients will pursue a government tort claim against the city and Blakespear in both her official capacity as mayor and as a private citizen for violating her sworn oath to protect and uphold the constitution and infringing residents’ free speech rights.

If the city does not agree to settlement terms under this action, Curran said the plaintiffs will pursue a lawsuit in state court. 

The announcement came just hours after Blakespear — in accordance with the terms of an out-of-court settlement she had previously reached with Curran’s clients —  issued a public apology on her public Facebook page for restricting access to her official mayoral social media pages. 

“Politics on social media have become an incubator for hate and vitriol that turns too many civically engaged people away from the civic dialogue,” Blakespear wrote in a Facebook post. “As a woman serving in elected office, I have been the target of threatening and harassing comments on my social media and in my daily life — personal attacks, not simply ones disagreeing with my policy perspectives…

“…Recently, an attorney sent me a cease-and-desist letter on behalf of certain individuals and anonymous complainants who claimed they were not able to participate in my campaign Facebook page…In the cease-and-desist letter, the complainants threatened to sue me if they did not receive a public apology for their inability to participate. To that end, I publicly apologize to anyone who did not have full access to my campaign Facebook page or other social media accounts.”

However, in a letter addressed to Blakespear’s legal counsel, Curran characterized the apology as insincere and argued the language of the post violated the terms of the settlement. 

The agreement stipulated that Blakespear issue a public apology to the plaintiffs, pay Curran’s clients an undisclosed sum of money to cover attorney’s fees and refrain from any future blocking of commenters on her social media profiles. 

“Ms. Blakespear’s post purports to be her apology, a condition of our settlement that she has now made very public. However, what her post really is, is a play victim, disparagement of my clients, insinuating that they threatened her,” Curran wrote. “We particularly do not appreciate the insinuation that my clients, in anyway, threatened her. The personal attacks are personal and a violation of the non-disparagement provisions of our agreement.” 

The attorney also told The Coast News that Blakespear had not paid the plaintiffs the undisclosed agreed sum in the time frame outlined in the settlement. 

As a result, Curran declared the settlement void and will recommend that his clients file legal action against the city within the week in Vista Superior Court based on Blakespear’s “intentional/willful breach” of the agreement. 

The government tort claim will give the City of Encinitas 45 days to review the complaint. City officials can accept the claim and negotiate with the plaintiffs, deny the claim’s validity, or ignore the complaint altogether.

If the claim is accepted, the attorney said his clients will ask for a new specifically crafted public apology from Blakespear as well as compensation for damages upwards of $25,000. 

If the claim is denied or ignored, Curran said his clients will file a civil action against the City of Encinitas since Blakespear was acting in her official capacity — on behalf of the city — when she denied critics access to her public pages.

Cease and desist

In April, Curran submitted a cease-and-desist letter to Blakespear on behalf of Robert Nichols, former chairman of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, and approximately 15 other “citizens rights advocates,” requesting that Blakespear allow residents to freely exchange their views on her Facebook posts without being blocked or having their comments deleted.

In response, Blakespear unblocked Nichols and the other persons in question, and eventually agreed to settle under the previously mentioned settlement terms.  

While there is no law against a private individual restricting access to their personal social media, recent federal rulings have determined that constitutional violations can be triggered if an elected officeholder restricts access to their social media page that is utilized in activities related to their official capacity. Since Blakespear uses her official mayoral Facebook page as a forum to discuss city and regional business, all speech on such a forum is subject to First Amendment protections, as well as free speech protections under California’s constitution, Curran said. 

In her apology post, Blakespear denied using the page in an official government capacity. 

“My campaign social media page is not an official city-sponsored or city-funded social media page and no decisions are being made by the government on my social media pages,” Blakespear wrote.

Earlier this month a similar cease-and-desist letter was also submitted to Councilmember Joy Lyndes, a District 3 representative serving on the Encinitas City Council, who was also accused of blocking critics on her official social media as well.

Lyndes subsequently agreed to settle with the plaintiffs and will also be issuing a public apology with language agreed upon by both parties. She has also agreed to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees and costs, Curran told The Coast News.

Apology

In her Facebook post, Blakespear made numerous references to threats made against her by unspecified individuals over social media and called for greater civility in general public discourse. 

“…It’s clear that there’s a larger conversation to be had about rights on social media, especially when the right to free speech collides with other rights such as safety, privacy and protection of the public’s interests, like public health,” Blakespear wrote.

Steven Golden, a longtime Encinitas resident and one of the plaintiffs in the complaint against Blakespear, said the mayor’s apology was clearly disingenuous and crafted in a way to make the mayor look like the victim of online hate speech. 

“(Blakespear) turned the apology into a pity party for herself to make it look like she’s the victim — it wasn’t an apology at all,” Golden told The Coast News. “She should have just come out and apologized for blocking comments, that should have been it. Instead, she basically said I’m apologizing because I’m forced to — I’m the one who has been attacked verbally and with threats — which there’s no proof of. And even if there was, that’s still separate from the apology itself and should never have been included.” 

In pursuing a tort claim against the city, Golden expressed that he and the other plaintiffs are trying to hold the mayor accountable for Blakespear’s alleged violations of the First Amendment, the state constitution, and her oath of office as an elected official. 

“We’re hoping to see her held accountable for what she’s done, we want it to get out into the news,” Golden said. “This is about trying to make sure that everyone has a right to voice their opinion especially if it’s against the government, I mean if we can’t complain about the things that elected officials are doing what’s the point of having an election? She operates as though she’s anointed not elected, and she clearly couldn’t care less about us.”

Nichols agreed, asserting that Blakespear’s statement, far from being an apology, was “disparaging” toward himself and the other plaintiffs. 

“Unfortunately, Blakespear broke her signed settlement agreement with us this weekend. All those people who she’s blocked, hidden comments from or deleted all these years feel betrayed, and I don’t blame them,” Nichols said. “Her non-apology victim stance says a lot about Blakespear’s poor leadership qualities. A real leader would have stepped up to the plate and said: ‘I’m sorry everyone, I screwed up. I’m sorry for blocking you, I’m sorry for hiding and deleting your comments from the public, I’m sorry for breaking my sworn oath of office to you, and my oath as an attorney. I’m sorry for breaking the law.’

“Not only did Mayor Blakespear offend all those she blocked with her non-apology, but she disparaged them by acting like she’s been harassed and threatened by them all these years. These are professionals in the community, a firefighter, teacher, former planning commissioner, city council candidate, even a person with disabilities who was asking about ADA accessibility was blocked. That infuriated me.”

Curran said that by filing the tort claim, the plaintiffs were hoping to make an example out of Blakespear to deter other politicians from similarly violating free speech protections. 

“This is a case about U.S. Constitution First Amendment violations, it’s not a case about alleged threatening behavior and critical /mean comments on Facebook,” Curran said. “This case coupled with the significant SANDAG scandal of her and other SANDAG officials using public monies for dining and entertainment on her watch as chairman, convinces us this case needs to be filed and made very public and she needs to be made an example for other politicians, who think this kind of political misconduct is just the way the game is played.” 

A matter of politics or law?

Blakespear’s campaign manager for State Senate in District 38, Kevin Sabellico, issued the following comment from the mayor in response. 

“This is nothing more than a politically-motivated, right-wing attack on Mayor Blakespear, in a campaign where she is the leading Democrat running to flip a Republican State Senate seat,” Sabellico said. “There is no one who is blocked from the Blakespear campaign’s Facebook page. We welcome all to participate in the campaign and hope people will practice civility in their interactions.” 

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney with the Encinitas-based firm Coast Law Group and longtime Blakespear supporter, said from a legal perspective he did not think that Curran’s case would stand up in court because the mayor had already redressed the alleged damages by unblocking the plaintiffs from her social media. 

“The plaintiffs have a difficult suit because when you file a suit like this, the goal is to restore the public’s access to the page or website and that’s already been established,” Gonzalez said. “So in many ways, the case is functionally moot unless they have some mechanism to prove that the violation could occur again. The mere fact that they don’t like her apology doesn’t meet that burden of likely recurrence, which is the applicable legal standard when seeking injunctive relief.”

Gonzalez did say that he felt as though the mayor had erred by utilizing her public Facebook page to engage in city-related business.

“The problem from my perspective is not that she blocked these people from commenting because all of these people deserved to be blocked,” Gonzalez said. “The problem is that she slipped up and included posts about city business on her campaign site.”

Moving forward, Gonzalez said that he would likely advise politicians like Blakespear to turn off commenting altogether and use public social media profiles more as a one-way platform of engaging with users to avoid being put in similarly controversial situations. 

“Turning off commenting to everybody is possibly the best way of avoiding all of this,” Gonzalez said. 

15 comments

steve333 May 27, 2022 at 1:45 pm

In the meantime Blakespear cancels in person meetings, and then appears at a SANDAG meeting maskless after saying she tested positive to Covid 5 days prior!
No depths low enough for this fraud. There is absolutely no reason to vote for corruption and ineptness.

Leucadia101 May 27, 2022 at 11:01 am

We support all our resident who were blocked by Mayor Catherine Blakespear. This was a very clear violation of our free speech and Blakespear’s sworn oath of office.

I was someone who was blocked from Blakespear’s page for asking Bruce Ehlers questions. After Nichols and Curran sent the Cease and Desist letter I was miraculously unblocked and able to speak again. I stand behind all the residents who are fighting Blakespear and Marco Gonzalez on this issue. I support the attorney, Michael Curran, Plaintiff Bob Nichols and all the residents that are on the attorney’s list who have filed charges against Blakespear.

There’s no excuse for an elected official to break the rules and evidently over and over again for years. She has stifled free speech on her official city Mayor Blakespear page and she’s doing it again at council meetings when she tells people not to clap for speakers during oral communications. How are the people at home viewing a council meeting supposed to know if the community is in support of what a speaker says during oral communications if Blakespear is always telling them they can’t clap and support the speakers. Just another way of her censoring freedom of expression.

When I saw that Nichols and his attorney were going after Blakespear for illegally blocking people from her official elected rep social media page, the new “digital town square” I was very pleased.

There’s a quote from Nichols going around that really resonated with me. “Blakespear blocking people and deleting comments from her official Mayor Blakespear Facebook page is legally no different than her muting the microphone and escorting all people out of council chambers during public oral communications. That’s illegal.”

Leah Clare May 26, 2022 at 12:18 pm

Bob Nichols seemed pretty sure of himself, slamming Blakespear’s page with his fake outrage, but he’s deleted a lot of comments that he posted on CB’s apology thread.

Susan Turney has even tried to get in on the action, claiming she was blocked without ever looking or commenting on Blakespear’s page, which is impossible. Public pages are not the same as a Facebook profile or group. One has to interact for an admin to be able to block. This is easy to verify

Deb1949 May 26, 2022 at 11:35 pm

Bob Nichols is pretty sure of himself, because he’s in the right, you’re obviously making stuff up, “Leah Clare”.

Blakespear broke her sworn oath of office to the people of Encinitas. She was caught breaking the law and lying to her constituents. She’s in big trouble, you know it, I know it and Blakespear really know’s it.

There are SEVERAL DOZEN residents who are claiming the same thing happened to them. I myself have had comments deleted from Mayor Blakespear’s page, and I know of a lot of people that have complained about being blocked or had comments deleted from her page.

I also happen to know Susan Turney, we live down the street from her, voted for her in D2 when she ran. I know for a fact that Susan Turney was blocked, she showed me the evidence. What about the local Fire Fighter that states he was blocked, as well as a former planning commissioner, or the disabled lady who had ADA compliant questions. I also heard that Julie Thunder had many comments deleted over the years.

Are the several dozen community members all lying including some of the people I listed above? I don’t think so. I think Blakespear is lying, because she’s been caught plenty of times before.

Why did Mayor Blakespear sign the settlement agreement with Bob Nichols and send a check to his attorney after the non-apology. It was never cashed because it was late.

So, Leah Clare, I don’t think Bob Nichols, whom I know well, deleted any of his comments. Why would he? Have you seen the nearly 700 angry comments from residents directed at Blakespear? I see all of Bob Nichols comments. However I do see a lot of comments deleted by Marco Gonzalez. Mali Drake Underwood and Amanda Zenick the few Blakespear supporters that exist.

Again, why did Blakespear sign the Settlement Agreement and then send a check to Bob Nichol’s attorney if she wasn’t guilty? Why did Kevin Sabellico (Blakespear’s campaign manager) refuse to comment on the Settlement check? Why did Joy Lyndes immediately settle up when she blocked a fraction of the people that Blakespear blocked.

I stand behind our residents and against Blakespear. Go Michael Curran, Bob Nichols, Susan Turney, Ruben Florez, Julie Thunder, Steve Meiche, Stephen Golden, Jed Stuber, Rachel Hill, Natalie Setoon, Garvin Walsh, Lorri Greene, Fred Lara, Andria Oats Chandler, and all the other names that have been mentioned. VOTE NO on Blakespear for Senate.

Have you read the most recent Blakespear article, this doesn’t sound good for Blakespear. https://voiceofsandiego.org/2022/05/25/blakespear-facebook-page-fight-flares-again-as-users-threaten-another-suit/

Deb1949 May 27, 2022 at 11:17 am

Really, you think Nichols and Turney have “fake outrage” for advocating for our residents. I didn’t see any deleted comments from them. There’s nearly 700 comments from residents filled with outrage over Blakespear blocking people, many of them are coming from those who she blocked and deleted.
Several dozen community members were blocked according to the media, including me. Blakespear broke the law and according to her signature on the Cease and Desist Letter and check she sent the plaintiff’s attorney she knew it.
Blakespear has been a bad seed for this community for a long time. I’m glad that people are starting to hold her accountable for breaking the law and her oath of office to the residents.
Bye Bye Blakespear, the residents have had enough of your violations including alleged Brown Act violations. Time for you to resign.

Lou Tappet May 24, 2022 at 12:41 pm

Leah Clare, if the mayor is in the clear blocking folks on what you describe as a strictly-campaign site, why did she unblock everyone and admit guilt in her settlement agreement? You know it’s bad when even Gonzalez doesn’t try to defend her. She doubled down when she could not bring herself to offer an actual apology, but anyone familiar with her personality would have seen coming from a mile off.

Rabid Dem supporters are indistinguishable from rabid Trump fans. They’ll both follow their idols off a cliff.

Encinitas Lover May 24, 2022 at 4:11 pm

Yep, that’s exactly right.

Deb1949 May 24, 2022 at 10:00 am

The comments from Mr. Sabellico and Mr. Gonzales are nonsensical and also gave me a good chuckle this morning. I, personally, know a few of the DEMOCRATIC residents (one lives a couple houses down from me) who were blocked and ignored by Mayor Blakespear on several occasions for asking questions about her policies that negatively impact our neighborhood. Blakespear reminds me of Trump…dishonest and tyrannical. Our family, friends and neighbors all supported her and we have deep voters remorse. I commend Mr. Nichols and the others who put their foot down. I think the next appropriate step would be for Mayor Blakespear’s resignation from all current and future political seats. In the words of my granddaughter “Bye Felicia”.

Encinitas Lover May 24, 2022 at 9:58 am

“Your First Amendment rights and social media

Even online, your First Amendment rights remain with you. While private individuals and the platform itself can censor you, government actors cannot generally censor you based on the content of your communication. If the account page is determined to be official, then they should not exclude anyone for having differing viewpoints. They may not block users, delete comments, or otherwise restrict engagement on the basis of viewpoint.
If an official’s social media page is being used as an extension of their office office, there are certain things they can and cannot do.

•They cannot stop people from joining a public conversation on the social media account because of the views they express on the topics being discussed.

•They cannot block critical voices from asking for government services through the social media account because of those critical viewpoints.

•They cannot prevent people from being able to see social media posts that publicly announce government information or policy because of their viewpoints.

•They can block posters for making personal threats and in some cases for the use of profane language.

•They can in certain circumstances limit discussions to specific subjects, particularly if done from the outset.”

From Bob Nichols post

Source: https://www.nyclu.org/en/know-your-rights/what-do-if-youre-censored-politicians-social-media

Encinitas Lover May 24, 2022 at 9:24 am

Clare you are incorrect Blakespear’s pages is conducting city business and is an “extension of her office”. Her page is titled “Mayor Catherine Blakespear” even says “Public Figure”. The SO CAL ACLU states her page is absolutely an official page.

From the ACLU…”How to determine if an official’s social media account is being used as an extension of their office:

The ACLU specifically states:

1. The official identifies as a government official (e.g., includes their official title like @POTUS ) on the account.

2.The official posts announcements about their policies, responsibilities, or actions to communicate and interact with constituents and voters.

3.The official uses the account to seek or encourage comments about what legislation they should bring or support.

4.The official uses the account to call official meetings or declare orders within their authority.

5.The official encourages public discussion on their account or page.

6.The official allows users to ask for government services on their account.

7.The page lists or otherwise indicates the official’s title.

Evan Marco Gonzalez said he regretted that she used it to conduct city business.Coast News- “Gonzalez did say that he felt as though the mayor had erred by utilizing her public Facebook page to engage in city-related business.”

According to Robert Nichols she has blocked nearly 30 people, mostly Democrat and even a person with disabilities who was asking about accessibility issues in town.

Michael Curran, Robert Nichols, Stephen Golden, Ruben Florez and all those listed are doing a spectacular job of holding Blakespear accountable for “breaking the law and her sworn oath of office as an elected official and oath as an attorney.” We will not support elected representatives who constantly break the law and only stop when they get caught.

Encinitas Lover May 23, 2022 at 11:09 pm

Borrowing this statement from Bob Nichols:
“Kevin Sabellico Blakespear’s campaign manager says all blocked were “Right Wingers”, yet nearly 90% of those 30 blocked are Democrat.

Blakespear says she wasn’t using her Facebook page for city business, yet Marco Gonzalez says she was conducting city business on it.

Blakespear says she didn’t do anything wrong, yet she signed the settlement agreement.

Marco says all were deserved to be blocked, oh yea even the lady in the wheelchair who had ADA accessibility questions.

Team Blakespear you’re in deep….”

Encinitas Lover May 23, 2022 at 9:13 pm

Blakespear says she wasn’t using her “Mayor Catherine Blakespear” “Public Figure” Facebook page for city business, yet there are tons of photos where she’s conducting city business, SANDAG, agendas, proclamations, letter from Mayor to Bruce Ehlers, so many. Also Marco Gonzales even says at the end “The problem is that she slipped up and included posts about city business on her campaign site.”

Catherine campaign manager, Kevin Sabellico, says that all those blocked were right wingers, yet from a post I just saw from Bob Nichols says that nearly all of the blocked were Democrats, I know that the people who’ve been giving quotes are democrats.

Blakespear says she did nothing wrong, then why did she sign the Settlement Agreement admitting fault in the matter.

Marco says all the people who were blocked deserved it. Does he realize that it’s against the law to do that on a politicians “Official” page? Does Marco realize that the District courts and ACLU have determined this.

Does Mr. Marco Gonzalez understand that she blocked a lot of great community members, including a severely disabled women who all because she was asking accessibility related questions.

Blakespear messed up big time. Oh how I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the Blakespear house right now.

Leah Clare May 23, 2022 at 8:56 pm

Typo, that should have said she is using her personal email and not her city email

Creating Facebook posts related to city business is NOT the same as conducting city business. City business is conducted at city council meetings, in city hall, or at official city events. She is completely allowed to post photos or posts showing her at official functions while she campaigns, and still have it be a separate page. But Bob Nichols is too rabid to let that sink in

Leah Clare May 23, 2022 at 8:29 pm

Blakespear’s page clearly states it is a campaign page.

A candidate is allowed to use their current position (mayor) in the title of their page. That does not make it “official” because 1) The posted URL in the about section clearly links to Catherine Blakespear’s own website, not the City of Encinitas site and this Facebook page has ALWAYS linked to Blakespear’s site. Therefore, her social media linked to that site is an EXTENSION of her personal site. And she can block people from her own site

2. The email address associated with her social media accounts is her personal email, her City of Encinitas email.

3. She had clearly posted rules on her page and people were removed from the page for breaking those rules. If people behaved inappropriately at a city council meeting, I bet they’d be booted from there to. If someone showed up naked, would they be kicked out? Yes. Clearly we have a sense of appropriate behavior.

Campaign page, links to personal website, using personal email… Posting links to city business is no more “conducting” city business than her newsletter is. And unsubscribing people from her newsletter is completely legal, and so is this.

Attorney Michael Curran has sued over the mask mandate during the height of the pandemic. He’s anti-vcxx, right wing nut who also has current lawsuits against Newsom and has major beefs with democrats. He’s an ambulance-chasing nut and his client Bob Nichols is angry at Blakespear and the city for a valid staff report where city staff said they refused to work with him anymore due to his harassing behavior.

steve333 May 23, 2022 at 7:19 pm

>“This is nothing more than a politically-motivated, right-wing attack on Mayor Blakespear, in a campaign where she is the leading Democrat running to flip a Republican State Senate seat,” Sabellico said. “There is no one who is blocked from the Blakespear campaign’s Facebook page. We welcome all to participate in the campaign and hope people will practice civility in their interactions.” <

Is this guy for real?
Everyone knows there are many Democrats who previously voted for Blakespear that turned against her because she turned against Encinitas.
This is the usual tactic for Blakespear and Sabellico, they make a perfect match. There is no one blocked from her page NOW, because she was forced by lawsuit to allow everyone again.

This is the Developer PAC lawyer that is good buddies with Corrupt Catherine,. You can see what kind of a person she is by the company she keeps.

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