CARLSBAD — A claim for damages has been served to the City of Carlsbad by a law firm representing former resident Noel Breen — one of three individuals who were the focus of Councilwoman Cori Schumacher’s recently quashed restraining order.
Scott Talkov, Breen’s attorney, sent the letter on March 11 seeking $42,455.18 in attorney’s fees after a judge granted Breen’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion and dismissed Schumacher’s restraining order earlier this month.
Part of Breen’s anti-SLAPP motion included a cross-complaint against the City of Carlsbad, alleging that the city is liable for Schumacher’s petition, which was “directly related to her performance of her official duties as a councilmember.”
Talkov said his client is willing to settle with the city out of court for $33,386.75.
“Politicians should not be able to evade the damages caused by their efforts to chill free speech simply because judgment collection against them would be difficult,” Talkov said. “Rather, the government entity should be liable for the torts of their elected officials.”
The motion to strike was filed in response to a civil harassment restraining order submitted by Schumacher in September 2020 against Breen and two Carlsbad residents, Anthony “Tony” Bona and Larry Posner, alleging stalking, harassment, surveillance and threats from various social media and blog posts.
Vista Superior Court Judge Cynthia Freeland granted the motion and ruled Schumacher’s restraining order violated both men’s First Amendment rights. Freeland also granted $2,625 in legal fees for Posner on March 12 after his case was dismissed with prejudice in October 2020.
“Justice and the First Amendment prevailed,” Posner said. “Good grief, seriously. Good grief that I had to go through this crap.”
Freeland did not make a ruling during the March 4 hearing as to whether Schumacher was acting in her capacity as a councilwoman or a private resident. Talkov contends she was acting in her official role on the council, making either the City of Carlsbad, Schumacher or her campaign liable for any legal fees or damages.
In his letter, Talkov argues Schumacher’s original complaint listed her address as 1200 Carlsbad Village Drive, the location of City Hall.
“Which Cori Schumacher filed this restraining order? Was it her individually, as a candidate for public office or as an elected official?” Talkov asked. “She may be very interested in the city finding that she was acting in her official capacity so that the city has to pay it so she doesn’t have to pay it.”
If the court rules that Schumacher’s campaign is liable, any campaign contributions to Schumacher must be used to first pay off her legal fees, Talkov said.
“If the court rules her campaign is liable, every person who donates to Cori Schumacher will be donating to the attorneys who defeated her meritless efforts to chill the First Amendment rights of her opponents,” Talkov said. “That will cause her fundraising to dry up overnight.”
According to Talkov, the city as a municipal corporation can either stand with Schumacher, distance itself from her or request the court view her actions as a private resident. Freeland is scheduled to make a determination on April 9 unless the city opts to pay the settlement amount.
“The city does not comment on issues related to litigation,” said Communications Director Kristina Ray.
Unlike Breen, Bona, who also won his anti-SLAPP motion, did not file a cross-complaint. Schumacher claimed Bona sent threats over social media and was attempting to forcibly remove her from the city.
Freeland ruled that no reasonable person would consider Bona’s remarks about Schumacher on various social media platforms to be “threats.” Bona is also seeking attorney’s fees of more than $40,000, his lawyer, Erik Jenkins, said during the March 4 hearing.
Jenkins said he will also file a claim against the City of Carlsbad for damages stemming from Schumacher’s actions. Jenkins slammed Schumacher for “abusing” her position as a public official in an attempt to silence her critics and violating their constitutional rights.
“Judge Cynthia Freeland has renewed my faith in our constitutional rights,” Bona said. “I feel blessed that she rendered a fair and unbiased decision. Now it’s time for Cori Schumacher to pay my extraordinary attorney, Erik Jenkins, for his amazing work to protect my rights. Next stop for me is a separate lawsuit against the City of Carlsbad for the many deliberate acts which severely harmed me financially and personally.”