In a Sept. 6 ruling, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Presiding Judge Barry LaBarbera laid waste to a local homeless services director’s claims that a local private investigator defamed her while conducting interviews for a local website.
Dee Torres, homeless services coordinator for the Community Action Partnership of SLO County, sued former Atascadero mayor and current private dick Mike Brennler after the latter allegedly told Torres’ ex-husband that Torres had pilfered items from her homeless clients.
The interview was part of a series of articles at calcoastnews.com, which included accusations against Torres and other CAPSLO members of shady dealings with public funds.
Brennler’s attorney, Stew Jenkins, argued that his client’s statements were constitutionally protected free speech and made in connection with an issue of public interest.
Torres and her attorney, Roy Ogden, faced the burden of proving that she wasn’t a public figure and that Brennler’s statements were made with “actual malice.”
“While the statements made were limited to accusations against Plaintiff, they were made in the context of an investigation of the delivery of homeless services and mismanagement of services by CAPSLO, which can broadly be construed as an issue of public interest,” LaBarbera wrote.
Jenkins was in court the morning New Times went to press and couldn’t be reached for comment. Ogden told New Times that “justice was denied” and that he’s considering an appeal.