Turner Responds to Threat of Defamation Lawsuit by Political Staffer for Assemblyman Marc Steinorth
Yesterday, I shared the news that a high-powered law firm based out of Sacramento has threatened me with a defamation of character lawsuit on behalf of their client, Heather Rouhana.
Earlier this week when American Children First broke the news that Steinorth's wife called 9-1-1 to report a domestic disturbance at their home in April, we reported that several well placed sources had told us that Steinorth and Rouhana were engaged in some sort of inappropriate relationship. We also reported that it is believed that this inappropriate relationship was the catalyst for the confrontation resulting in the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department being summoned.
The "cease and desist" letter, written by Brian Hildreth of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, threatens a defamation of character lawsuit if we fail to take down this post within 12 hours.
There are three main points articulated by Hildreth:
- We have injured Rouhana by spreading factually false, destructive, and defamatory rumors
- That Rouhana is a "private figure" and our alleged defamatory statements relate to a private matter
- We have invaded Rouhana's privacy
Wading Through the Bullshit:
What is Defamation?
The Digital Media Law Project defines defamation as follows:
Defamation, which consists of both libel and slander, is defined by case law and statute in California. See Cal. Civ. Code §§ 44, 45a, and 46.
The elements of a defamation claim are:
- publication of a statement of fact
- that is false,
- has a natural tendency to injure or which causes "special damage," and
- the defendant's fault in publishing the statement amounted to at least negligence.
Publication, which may be written or oral, means communication to a third person who understands the defamatory meaning of the statement and its application to the person to whom reference is made. Publication need not be to the “public” at large; communication to a single individual other than the plaintiff is sufficient. Republishing a defamatory statement made by another is generally not protected.
At no time has American Children First or its representatives asserted that Assemblyman Marc Steinorth is having an affair with any person. We have made no statement of fact nor have we written anything as fact that we know to be false. We have merely reported what we have heard from multiple sources regarding the matter.
And we stand by those sources and other information that has been provided but not published at this point.
We would remind Ms. Rouhana's attorney that the truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation.
Wading Through the Bullshit:
Is Rouhana a Private Figure?
Hildreth makes the argument that Heather Rouhana is a private person and that the matters discussed are private in nature. We vehemently disagree.
It is laughable for Rouhana's attorney to insist that she is a private person because his own letter acknowledges that her "positive reputation in her community" comes by way of her public role as an employee of the California legislature.
"Ms. Rouhana is an educated, respected professional in her community. She has spent years serving the public through her profession and other activities. Her service as a California State employee has resulted in her earning a justifiably positive reputation in her community."
In essence, her solid reputation has come by way of being a visible public official who meets regularly with community stakeholders and subsequently uses those interactions to influence policy and legislative decisions.
Furthermore, she is listed as the media's point of contact on countless press releases issued by Steinorth's office and has been quoted in her official capacity in credible and reputable publications like the Los Angeles Times and the Redlands Daily Facts.
Staffers Are Influential People
It is common knowledge that some staffers, especially chiefs of staff, have incredibly high degrees of influence over their member with respect to a variety of legislative and public policy issues. It is not uncommon for a chief of staff to be "the brains behind the operation" especially in a climate where term limits shifts varying degrees of power away from the elected officials and towards staff who may have a better understanding of how the system works.
For example, it is widely believed that the chief of staff for Assemblyman Chad Mayes was the mastermind behind the disastrous "cap and trade" bill that Assemblyman Marc Steinorth also supported.
Staffers Are Scrutinized
Staff members of elected officials are subject to extreme scrutiny simply because they work for a high profile figure in the public eye.
San Bernardino County provides numerous examples attesting to this fact.
When Supervisor Neil Derry offered me a position on his staff in 2009 there were several articles published in numerous papers throughout the county criticizing the move. There were also activists who railed against the decision at a board meeting. And I was nowhere near the rank of chief of staff.
Supervisor Dennis Hansberger's chief of staff was placed on leave and became the subject of an investigation by the district attorney over a land deal in 2005.
There was also the so-called "Colonies Scandal" and investigation into the dealings of former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus. Supposedly the largest corruption case in California history, key figures in these dramas were chiefs of staff for members of the board, and several other staff members much lower in the pecking order.
A field representative for Supervisor James Ramos was the subject of a local media firestorm when he was arrested for supplying drugs to an inmate at a county detention facility.
Outside of San Bernardino County there are dozens and dozens of examples. My personal favorite centers around the chief of staff for California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer. He was publicly rebuked for cursing.
Moreover, it is a fact that staffers for state legislators are held to higher standards than regular government employees per their employment contracts.
Rouhana Previously Scrutinized by Public
Again, nearly all staffers for elected officials invite public scrutiny by their very existence and through the carrying out of their job description. Rouhana voluntarily interacts with the public at events and meetings, as do field representatives. And their conduct is always being analyzed. Every political staffer is informed that their private, personal and social media conduct reflects upon their member.
Prior to our reporting on the alleged affair between her and Assemblyman Steinorth, American Children First led a group of activists to protest at her boss' office. We were upset about the "cap and trade" gas tax he supported which would raise gas prices by 71 cents a gallon.
Rouhana met with us, the public, and faced scrutiny and public debate over the way she conducted herself that day, including a mention on one of the most read websites in the world, Breitbart News.
The video below has 200,000 views on YouTube.
You will see that at one point (1:14) she said the gas tax was not a tax and was ridiculed. This exchange was subsequently mentioned on one of the most listened to talk radio shows in the nation, "The John and Ken Show." In this same video (1:44), she announces that she is "done" and calling the police to get us to leave the office.
This resulted in more than 30 police officers arriving on scene to escort us out and a subsequent public backlash in the local paper.
In this extended video from the same visit, Rouhana laughed in a joking manner at one point (11:20). This drew the rebuke of activists who do not consider the tax to be a laughing matter and also generated some angry chatter and criticism on social media.
Good luck proving Rouhana is not a public official. That will be fun to watch.
Wading Through the Bullshit:
What is a Private Matter?
Sexual scandals involving politicians are a big deal. They are by definition a public matter.
Some argued that Assemblyman Chad Mayes may have voted for the "cap and trade" bill because Speaker Anthony Rendon was informed about it and possibly threatened to investigate the matter.
Elected officials put themselves in great peril when they are caught in a compromising situation. Moreover, political staffers intrinsically understand that their association with an elected official is a two-way street whereby the actions or alleged actions of one may negatively impact the other.
We believe taxpayers have a right to hold their government accountable and that political staffers are not immune to scrutiny. We believe that these allegations are clearly a matter of public concern.
An inappropriate relationship of some kind between an elected official and a staff member could open up the taxpayers to liability with respect to sexual harassment or assault claims. Other staffers might argue that preferential treatment was afforded another and that they were discriminated against in some way. And taxpayers might wonder if any government resources were used by the individuals involved to carry on or conceal the relationship.
Most importantly, one never knows what sort of blackmail or pressure can be placed on an elected when they have skeletons in their closet that they do not want exposed.
Wading Through the Bullshit:
What is Invasion of Privacy?
Rouhana's attorney writes that "the right of privacy is the right to live one's life without being subjected to unwarranted and undesired publicity."
Nobody forces any person to work for an elected official or to become the highest ranking member of an elected official's staff. The very nature of the position subjects a person to undesired publicity as evident in the aforementioned video above. At the 9:23 mark, Rouhana whines about us not being fair to her.
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
It should be further noted that Rouhana is a highly political person that has freely entered the political arena in a capacity that exceeds her current employment.
She has served as a campaign staffer for Mr. Steinorth and it is not uncommon for campaign staffers to become subject of public scrutiny. She is also a voting member of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. This is a public and political position.
Her campaign bio stated:
She is a founding member of the San Bernardino County Young Republicans. She formerly served as the Executive Director of the Lincoln Club of San Bernardino County, the Director of Field Operations for Congressman Miller, and the Political Director of the SBYRs.
Some Concluding Thoughts
This is a pathetic attempt to silence and intimidate a grassroots activist organization out of exercising its First Amendment rights by one of the most powerful law firms in the state. It is egregious and pathetic.
And we will have more to say on this matter in the coming days because we can't stand bullies or people who abuse their power.
Buckle up. This ride is about to get really bumpy.