By Paul Kruze
Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report
Read Judge Taylor’s full decision dismissing Kalasho’s cross complaint.
December 27, 2017 (San Diego)--San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor gave his early Christmas gift Friday to embattled El Cajon City Councilman Ben Kalasho: a proverbial piece of coal.
The judge dismissed a countersuit filed by Kalasho against two beauty pageant contestants and a taco shop owner who are suing Kalasho on serious allegations of abusive behavior including sexual misconduct, fraud, defamation, and cyberharassment.
With Kalasho stoically standing next to his attorney, Judge Taylor found that the countersuit filed by Kalasho, a public figure, met the definition of a SLAPP suit meant to intimidate individuals’ constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. SLAPP suits are illegal under California law. The judge affirmed that the plaintiffs have a right to redress their grievances against Kalasho in a court of law and to speak about their grievances in the media. “Lawsuits are public proceedings,” Taylor admonished Kalasho’s attorney, Stephen J. Liosi.
The lawsuit against Kalasho, Zhala Tawfiq vs. Miss Middle East Pageant USA Inc., was filed by former pageant contestants Zhala Tawfiq, Paris Kargar, and Duraid Hallack, owner of Tres Taqueria (3 Brothers Taco Shop, Inc.)
Among other serious allegations, the suit, filed by attorney Jimmie Davis Parker, contends that Kalasho posted fake nude photos of Tawfiq on social media to shame her after she was stripped of her crown due to a contract dispute, that Kalasho promised Kargar she would win the crown if she agreed to spend the night in his hotel room, and that Kalasho falsified negative poll results to harm the taco shop’s business after the owner refused to post Kalasho campaign signs on the premises. The plaintiffs contend that Kalasho engaged in “outrageous conduct” with intent to cause extreme emotional distress, or with reckless disregard of that prospect, and to intentionally interfere with a business.
Kalasho has denied all of the allegations and has asserted that plaintiffs have not provided direct evidence to tie him to the allegedly falsified nude photos. In his countersuit, he claimed plaintiffs harmed his reputation, caused him emotional distress, sought to interfere with his business relationships, defamed him, and in the case of Tawfiq, breached a contract, among other claims made.
The judge granted plaintiffs’ motion to strike down Kalasho’s countersuit in its entirety. A breach of contract clause against Tawfiq was defeated via a demurrer.
Documents filed by the plaintiffs’ attorney indicated that the plaintiffs have obtained information from internet providers and social media sites tying Kalasho to aliases used to post negative statements about the taco shop. The attorney for the plaintiffs also asserted that in a deposition, Kalasho’s wife, Jessica, confirmed she visited a friend in Cerritos the weekend that the nude photos were posted online from the friend’s home, as ECM previously reported.
Judge Taylor wrote in his ruling that Kalasho and his attorney “cannot establish a probability of prevailing” on the cross complaint, with the exception of breach of contract counts, adding, “They offer no evidence of declarations in opposition to meet their burden to establish even minimal merit.”
In response, Kalasho’s attorney, Liosi, said in court that he wasn’t able to sufficiently address the points raised by the plaintiffs because of brain injuries he sustained from a car accident in Barstow. Taylor then asked Liosi if this was the case, why had he not had another attorney step in his place while he was convalescing.
Liosi responded that he had recently moved to San Diego County and didn’t know any attorneys who could substitute for him.
Judge Taylor ordered Kalasho to pay Tawfiq’s attorney, Jimmie D. Parker, legal fees and costs associated with defeating the cross complaint. The judge also ordered Kalasho to pay $1,245 in sanctions.
Liosi said that he would appeal the decision via a California Civil Code Procedure 473 in which the court may grant relief from default or dismissal due to a party's reasonable mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect if the party seeking relief files the motion within six months of the order of entry of default judgment.
Taylor also granted a motion by plaintiffs’ lawyer to compel responses to interrogatories and production of documents. His ruling states that form interrogatories sent in August and September have not been returned by the defendants; moreover Jessica Kalasho has not complied with a request to produce 14 categories of documents at an October deposition. No objection to the request for documents was ever received by the court.
Also during the proceedings, Matrix Video, owned by Hussam Jazrawy, was called on by the court to turn over all of the video which was shot at Kalasho’s pageant event and given to Kalasho. Although he claimed during Friday’s proceding that he no longer had any of the footage archived and that it had been erased, Jazrawy ultimately turned over a DVD of the video to Parker.
Taylor stated that because Kalasho and his attorney “failed to file any opposition to the motion,” the court is entitled to consider that lack of opposition to be an admission the motion is meritorious.”
In an emailed statement provided to the news media and East County Magazine, Jimmie Parker, the attorney representing the plaintiffs said,
“As you know, I represent various victims of Councilman Kalasho's online misconduct, sexual harassment, and defamation who have filed suit against the Councilman in San Diego Superior. The Councilman, in retaliation for the suit, continued his pattern and practice of harassment against my clients and filed an unmeritorious countersuit against them. In response to his countersuit, my clients filed an anti-SLAPP motion providing the Court with overwhelming evidence from Cox Communications, ATT, Facebook and Instagram that the posts defaming and harassing my clients using pseudonyms (including the publication of falsified nudes of Ms. Zhala Tawfiq) originated from the Councilman and/or his cohort's residences.”
The e-mail concludes, “Needless to say, we are pleased that the Judge has seen Councilman Kalasho's countersuit for what it was, a frivolous and retaliatory action that has been now been put to bed. We will continue to litigate this matter in Court in order to bring justice to the victims of the Councilman's outrageous and disturbing conduct.”
East County Magazine contacted Kalasho’s attorney for his response to the decision, but he did not respond to the request. We also e-mailed Kalasho for comment, but he did not reply.
A full court trial is expected to start in August 2018.
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