JUDGE DENIES MENDOZA’S REQUEST TO EXTEND RESTRAINING ORDER , MAY ORDER HER TO PAY LEGAL FEES IN LEBARON’S ANTI-SLAPP SUIT

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By Jessyka Heredia

Watch Full Video Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wkN9EZZbEw

 

August 15, 2023 (Lemon Grove) -- Lemon Grove Councilmember Liana LeBaron came out as the lone victor in the restraining order filed back in February by Councilmember Jennifer Mendoza Monday at the El Cajon Superior court. Mendoza may also have to pay LeBaron’s legal fees in an anti-SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit against A Public Participation) counter suit filed by LeBaron.

Back in June, ECM reported on LeBaron winning the anti-SLAPP suit and that the original Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against  LeBaron was extended by 90 days after the judge heard both testimony from Mendoza’s husband regarding allegedly aggressive actions that he witnessed by LeBaron as well as  testimony by community members  that raised concerns over some of Mendoza’s claims. Out of caution, Judge Peter A.  Lynch extended the TRO as a cooling off period.

LeBaron was granted the anti SLAPP suit back in June because many of the examples of harassment that Mendoza claimed occurred were during campaigning and elections activities. The Judge ruled that was a violation of LeBaron’s rights to free speech and not admissible, as you cannot silence a political opponent.

The restraining order was filed after Mendoza said LeBaron approached her at a brewery and whispered, “I’m glad I have so much control over you.”  LeBaron says Mendoza got up and pushed a chair into her. LeBaron called the Sheriff, but the Sheriff’s department found “no probable cause” that an assault had occurred. LeBaron contends that she merely said hello to Mendoza and that Mendoza got up, pushing the chair into her.

At the hearing Monday, Mendoza presented examples of previous harassing or threatening behavior claimed by other individuals regarding LeBaron, such as LeBaron’s husband during their divorce proceedings as well as a complaint by former city clerk that the city of Lemon Grove hired attorneys to investigate. None of these claims have been proven and were deemed not admissible in this case by Judge Lynch. 

Mendoza asked the judge to extend the restraining order saying, “Even though Ms. LeBaron has not violated the TRO in the past 90 days or harassed me further, I have good reason to believe that the minute this order is lifted she will start harassing me again.” Mendoza went on to say that she wanted a “15-month extension, until November of 2024. Her city Council term is up at that time. “I think its unlikely that if she even ran, she would win or get reelected because of her negative behavior,” Mendoza told the judge, adding, “As you know the burden of proof in a civil harassment restraining order is clear and convincing. Which is lower than the standard of proof in a criminal case. This means that I merely need to show that the facts in the dispute are more likely than not.”

LeBaron’s attorney, Cory Briggs, was given a chance to defend his client and said that there was no clear and convincing evidence. Briggs said that “all of these issues were litigated previously and that is why you continued the matter till today. As Ms. Mendoza said, there have been no incidents since the hearing, since the TRO in fact. So there really is no reason to continue things.” Briggs said since there were no incidents and both parties have managed “to handle things just fine, and with no evidence of any sort of future threat, no evidence of a continuous course of conduct...many of the things Ms. Mendoza wants to bring back up were stricken by the court in the anti- SLAPP ruling.  So my client asks that you dismiss the case today.”

Judge Lynch had LeBaron raise her hand and under oath asked her, “Does the petitioner have any reason for you to contact in the future unrelated to lawful contact related to your business?” LeBaron replied, “No.” The Judge asked LeBaron if she is voluntarily agreeing that ”you won’t call, strike, harass, contact her in the future unless lawfully related to the business relationship?” LeBaron replied, “Yes.” The judge then asked LeBaron if she ran into the petitioner in a random encounter “What would your behavior be?” Lebaron responded, “if I was walking in a grocery store smiling, I would continue walking in the grocery store smiling.”   

Judge Lynch addressed Mendoza saying, “The standard in which the original temporary restraining order was issued on was proof of harassment. The standard today is clear and convincing. Here is the definition of clear and convincing. Clear and convincing requires a finding of high probability. Under this standard evidence must be so clear that to leave no substantial doubt, sufficiently strong to command the unhesitating descent of every reasonable mind. That is the second highest burden of proof that we have and its much higher than you suggested.”

The Judge ruled that “the court finds that there is not a reasonable probability of unlawful violence in the future.”

Briggs asked the judge if he would be issuing a court date for the anti-SLAPP suit for which Mendoza could required to pay LeBaron’s legal fees. Judge Lynch told Briggs to file the paperwork and a date would be issued within 30 days.

After the hearing, ECM asked Mendoza if she would like to give a statement on the ruling, Mendoza said, “I’m satisfied with the judge’s decision, because he had Councilmember LeBaron swear under oath that she will not contact me except with something to do with city business.”

ECM asked Mendoza how she felt about losing the anti-SLAPP suit, to which she responded, “I’m going to argue that my petition was not frivolous because I was granted a 90-day restraining order and I think that will negate his claims for attorney fees on the anti SLAPP statute.  Of course, that’s all up to the judges interpretation."