ENCINITAS – A group of residents continues to seek legal remedies against Mayor Catherine Blakespear for her alleged censorship of social media criticism, recently filing a new Notice of Intent to move forward with litigation unless the previous payment conditions are met.
San Diego Civil Lawyer Carla Di Mare filed an amended notice July 14 with the City of Encinitas on behalf of Robert Nichols, former president of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, and about 28 other “citizen rights advocates.”
DiMare, who replaces Carlsbad-based attorney Michael Curran, says his client’s constitutional rights were violated when Blakespear restricted access to his official mayor’s Facebook page and blocked some users for expressing dissenting opinions.
The notice asks for a formal apology from the mayor and $5,000 in attorney fees in compensation.
In May, Nichols and the other plaintiffs filed a government lawsuit against Blakespear and the city of Encinitas after residents claimed Blakespear violated the terms of an earlier settlement agreement reached between the two parties.
The mayor had agreed to issue a public apology to residents on his official Facebook page, but Nichols and others criticized the apology. to be dishonest. Curran, the plaintiff’s attorney at the time, advised the city that the settlement agreement was void and that his clients would pursue a tort action.
The tort claim is against Blakespear, both as a public official and private citizen, and against the City of Encinitas. The city will have 45 days to review the complaint in order to accept the claim and negotiate with the complainants, deny the validity of the claim or ignore the criticism altogether.
“Ms. Blakespear’s cancellation of the Settlement Agreement or her refusal to comply with the Settlement Agreement brings her into conflict with the City and harms the City,” the amended notice reads.
“The city could be held vicariously liable for its mayor’s misconduct, including voiding the settlement agreement and/or refusing to comply with the settlement agreement she signed. while acting within the scope of her employment with the city, which adversely affected my client (and others in the same situation).
DiMare said his company would not hesitate to sue the city if Blakespear did not agree to the terms of the settlement.
“Mayor Catherine Blakespear deliberately deprived the people of Encinitas of their constitutional right to free speech because she disagreed with them. Then she breached a settlement agreement she signed,” DiMare said. “She also unjustifiably criticized the good people of Encinitas with her false and polarizing rant in May 2022. She also tried to make her campaign pay for what she called a personal initiative.
“Blakespear is unfit for political office, in my opinion. She should honor the settlement agreement and stop dragging the great city of Encinitas with her bad behavior, or else we will file a lawsuit after the amended notice period expires.
If the tort suit proceeds in state court, DiMare said his company would seek damages in excess of $100,000 from the city.
But in comments to The Coast News, Kevin Sabellico, Blakespear’s campaign manager in his race for the state’s 38th Senate District seat, said the mayor has no intention of accepting the new settlement terms proposed in the amended notice, arguing that the campaign had already satisfied the terms of the previous settlement agreement provided by Curran.
“This is just another politically motivated right-wing attack on Mayor Blakespear. This is nothing more than a frivolous and blatantly partisan lawsuit,” Sabellico said. “Mayor Blakespear is not a senator, but as a candidate for the State Senate, she holds herself to the same high standards outlined in the California State Senate Social Media Policy.Senate Social Media Policy does not allow individuals to Post harassing, abusive, or spammy comments Repeated violations may result in loss of account access.
The city of Encinitas declined to comment on the potential litigation.
In April, Curran submitted a cease-and-desist letter to Blakespear on behalf of the plaintiffs, asking Blakespear to allow residents to freely share their views on its Facebook posts without being blocked or having their comments removed.
In response, Blakespear released Nichols and others and eventually agreed to settle under the previously mentioned settlement terms without admitting any wrongdoing.
While it is not illegal for an individual to restrict public access to their personal social media accounts, recent federal rulings have determined that the First Amendment may be violated if an elected official restricts access to their media page. social used in an official capacity.
Because Blakespear uses its official Mayor’s Facebook page to discuss city and regional business, all speech on such a forum is subject to First Amendment protections and free speech protections under the California constitution, both Curran and DiMare argued.
In his apology post via Facebook, Blakespear denied using the page in an official government capacity.
“My campaign social media page is not an official city-sponsored or funded social media page, and no decisions are made by the government on my social media pages,” Blakespear wrote. “Social media politics have become an incubator of hate and vitriol that diverts too many civically engaged people from civic dialogue. As an elected woman, I have been the target of threatening and harassing comments on my social media and in my daily life – personal attacks, not just those that disagree with my political outlook…
“…Recently, a lawyer sent me a cease and desist letter on behalf of certain individuals and anonymous complainants who claimed they were unable to participate in my Facebook campaign page … In the cease and desist letter, the plaintiffs 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 hasn’t had full access to my campaign Facebook page or other social media accounts.
In comments made to The Coast News, Nichols again criticized the apology as insincere and derogatory to himself and other residents. Nichol also argued that Blakespear’s censorship of criticism on social media was a long-standing pattern of abusive behavior that forced the situation into the legal arena.
“Mayor Catherine Blakespear has willfully and knowingly broken the law and been sworn in for years,” Nichols said. “Over the years, many residents, including myself, have brought this to his attention and asked him to stop. She received ample warning and refused to stop, continuing to delete public comments and block people from her official “Mayor Catherine Blakespear” page.
“In the signed settlement agreement (Blakespear), she was asked to apologize to those she blocked and make a settlement payment from her personal account. “neither. Instead, she delivered an offensive and derogatory rant that called the residents she blocked dangerous, threatening and abusive. Some of those residents include a local firefighter, a teacher, several candidates in a local post, a disabled person, a former planning commissioner and concerned parents.They are not dangerous and threatening trolls, as she insinuates – they are concerned members of the community.