Holly Blair Prevails in Anti-SLAPP Suit against Lemoore

Council Member Holly Blair commenting during the special session. Photo by Gary Feinstein

To the consternation of several Lemoore residents, the city council approved a “compromise and Release Agreement” that orders the city to rescind Council Member Holly Blair’s censure and pay her legal fees.

During a special afternoon session on April 25th the city council voted  4 – 1 to approve the Release Agreement,  with Council Member Chad Billingsley voting no.

Background

Legal problems between Blair and the City of Lemoore started when the city council censured Blair in August of 2018. This was followed up a few months later by a Cease and Desist letter demanding Blair stop publicly criticizing city employees. The city then filed a lawsuit that included a restraining order and an injunction to silence Blair’s public criticism of the Lemoore Police Chief and City Manager.

Lemoore presented their case three times to Kings County Superior Court Judge Kathy Ciuffini, asking the judge to issue a restraining order against Blair.

In response, Blair fled an ant-SLAPP suit in March.

According to Blair’s suit, “The anti-SLAPP statute was enacted to check a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional right of freedom of speech and petition.”

The Agreement

The Release Agreement was negotiated April 23 by Lozano Smith, legal counsel for Lemoore, and The Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield, representing Blair. The agreement, negotiated in court, was then approved by Kings County Supreme Court Judge Kathy Cuiffini.

In exchange for Blair’s dropping her anti-SLAPP lawsuit, the city agreed to pay Melo and Sarsfield $38,000 in legal fees over the next 18 months.

The city was also ordered to lift the “restrictions set forth in the Censure and allow Respondent (Blair) to serve on committees and boards in her capacity as a City Council Member and to represent the City and Council at public functions in her official capacity on the same terms and condition as other City Council Members,” according to the agreement.

Blair was ordered in the agreement to “refrain from publicly making or adopting any negative comments about individual City employees or volunteers, including the City Manager.” Blair agreed to direct any criticism about individuals to the City Manager, who would then agendize her concerns to be discussed during closed session.

The agreement also made clear, though, that Blair is free to publicly criticize the city council, city departments, or the city government as a whole, consistent with her First Amendment rights.

In the spirit of transparency, the city of Lemoore revealed during the special session that it spent approximately $60,000 on Lozano Smith’s legal fees, bringing the total cost to the city to $100,000.

Lemoore Violates Terms within 24 Hours

In a case of déjà vu, the City of Lemoore violated the terms of the Release Agreement within 24 hours. A similar situation happened January 31 after a hearing involving this same case where Lemoore and Blair agreed not discuss the litigation with the press or on social media.

Nine minutes after the January hearing Lemoore posted details about the case on the city’s website.

Unlike the January incident, violating the current court sanctioned Release Agreement carries a $1000 fine – paid directly to Blair. The city will also have to pay Melo and Sarsfield’s legal fees if they decide to file a complaint against the city.

The violation to the Release Agreement happened April 26, the day after the city council approved the settlement. Police Chief Derrell Smith issued a statement to the Lemoore Leader implying the settlement was a legal victory for the city.

In his statement to the Leader he wrote, “Lemoore Council Member Blair’s inability to control her own public speech and follow the lawful practices and procedures available to her as a member of the Lemoore City Council unfortunately brought us here, where we are today. Yesterday, the Lemoore City Council approved a settlement with Council Member Blair. While it is disappointing that a city would ever be put in such a position to have to force honor, professionalism and a willingness to abide by the City’s administrative and procedural processes onto an elected official of local government, the City of Lemoore was put in that untenable situation…I remain hopeful that it (the release agreement) will continue, to force professionalism and compliance with the City’s administrative processes onto the elected official, who has shown that she would not otherwise feel so restrained.”

Under condition #11 of the Release Agreement it states “the Parties agree to issue the Joint Statement attached hereto as Exhibit A following execution of this agreement and approval of the Court. No other comments regarding this litigation shall be made except as required by law.”

When reached for comment, Marguerite Melo, Blair’s attorney, indicated that she had just learned of Chief Smith’s statement, but had no further comment at this time.

Discontent among the residents

During public comment residents expressed their outrage at the settlement.

Brian Castodio, a long-time business owner in Lemoore, said the only winners in this case were the lawyers. He criticized the legal advice of Lozano Smith and criticized the council for following it. He said that if the money were coming out of the council’s pocket everyone would have had a different attitude.

Susie Banuelos reminded the city council why they censured Blair in the first place and implored them to not approve the settlement. “I don’t think that kowtowing to lies, manipulation, and false characterizations of you and all of us, of our police chief, city manager, is the way to go.”

“You are paying her legal fees to slander and bad mouth all of us and wreck our town’s reputation,” she said.

Banuelos asked that at a minimum to please keep in place Blair’s censure.

Connie Willashom said, “I have no words about how disappointed I am…and Ms. Blair sitting there smirking is really something.”

Council members were unable to respond because of the condition not to publicly discuss the litigation. Council Member Stuart Lyons did encourage the disgruntled residents to read the document carefully, implying that the settlement was not a complete win by Blair.

Blair reiterated that all of the money awarded was to go to her lawyers.

That will change though If Police Chief Smith’s comments to the Lemoore Leader are found to be in violation of the settlement.

This is the second known instance that Lozano Smith has lost an anti-SLAPP suit. The law firm also represents the City of Greenfield and took the Monterey Weekly to court last August seeking a TRO that would prohibit the paper from publishing the law firm’s memos. The Monterey Weekly then filed an anti-SLAPP suit and prevailed.

Greenfield lost its case and the city had to pay the Weekly‘s attorney’s fees.

16 thoughts on “Holly Blair Prevails in Anti-SLAPP Suit against Lemoore

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  1. Shouldn’t have gone so far. Council should have worked it out between themselves in the first place and not take bad advice from their city attorney who fills their law firm‘s pockets with taxpayers money.

    • For council to “work it out” they would have to have done a proper investigation of the Police Chief, but the men on the council are not actually in charge; they are told what to do by the Police Chief and Chief Smith knows *exactly* what an independent investigation would find – hence the need to try and sue a council member into silence. What needs to happen now, is the men on the council need to grow a pair and stop being the Police Chief’s little toadies. Of course, we all know that’s not going to happen.

  2. I am very glad council-member Blair prevailed. Why did this get here? Why is the city, apparently again, still breaking any new settlement agreements?

    The voters need to vote those supporting this apparent denial of Ms. Blair’s civil rights out of office. And demand the resignations of any department heads and “Chief’s” that break the agreements.

    This corruption needs to end.

  3. This same law firm filed a case against the City of Coalinga for violation of a citizens civil rights.
    It was settled out of court and city of Coalinga had to change their ordnance which was in violation of state law.

  4. Holly Blair did not prevail, she must now conform or be fined $1000 per day as stated in the lawsuit. She is actually the one who broke the agreement the first day by talking smack on facebook about lyons and billingsley individually and not “as a whole”. She wont last through the next election and just like Tanya Stolz will just be an after thought. What gets me is how the voice has the gal to print this utter garbage. I see Greg Cody is their new best friend. The town bully and racist from Coalinga. Very sad that Holly, Tanya, and Greg Cody are costing the tax payers all this money. Just think without them around the cities wouldn’t be in these messes. Unfortunately loudmouths and bullies are protected by liberals.Which is funny because Greg could be looked at as the corner stone of racism.

    • If loudmouths and bullies are protected by liberals how do you explain President Trump?

    • The agreement does not prohibit Blair from criticizing her fellow council members by name. Try to do your homework before commenting.

      • I think the words in the agreement read “Respondent shall remain free to criticize the City Council, city departments, or the City government “as a whole” , sums it up right? What does as a whole mean to you? Oh you think that she is free to continue to attack council members individually.? I dont see that in the agreement. lol

        • The agreement covers “individual City employees or volunteers, including the City Manager.” The members of the council fall under none of those categories.

          The term, “as a whole” is applied to “the city government.”

          Barring criticism of elected officials would be outrageous; an affront to the everything the First Amendment stands for.

          • So just for clarity , Mrs Blair can continue to spew hatred onto others and the Voice will continue to promote her “winning” in doing so? Just making sure that’s the case. I really enjoy watching her make a fool of herself on social media and on the dais. I do not think she won though. She will be disliked by most the people in Lemoore for the rest of her life, not to mention her coworkers and people in charge at WHC, that probably cringe being seen with her or and her socialist husband!!!

  5. Just for clarity: She won. The racists who tried to silence free speech lost AND they had to pay 38 thousand dollars as a penalty.

    • Sorry Liztard – the only racist in the room is Holly. Look at her facebook, its full of racist and bigoted comments against white males. None of her colleges have said anything racist. Your agenda is failing , noone is buying your garbage #2020 . Bring your receipts, we got screen shots of the racist and bigoted messages. #culturevulture

  6. Greg Cody lost yesterday. The Judge ruled in the Cities favor against Mr Cody. So he lost the SLAPP Suit, and now has a 3 year Restraining order against him. The Judge stated there wasnt enough evidence to grant in the Scott case but stated she didnt trust Mr Cody because he was not a “credible person”. She even stated, the person here is not the same person on the council videos.. you got busted!!!! Figured I would do your reporting for you since your not interested in telling the truth.!! Greg Lost, you lose, 3 years baby!!!! Your a threat, hand in your guns, you lied at court stating you had none or sold them. No worries we will be reporting you and they will take them from your hands!!! Tanya censure is next!!! Prediction – next move. Tanya sues the city once they censure her for sharing closed session data!!! Now the city should go for attorney fees from Mr Cody!!!!!

  7. Greg Cody won his anti-SLAPP suit against Robin Scott and his legal bill has to be paid for by the city.

    Mr. Cody is appealing the ruling in Mr. Adkisson case and the paperwork will be filed today or tomorrow.

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