Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Court of Appeal:
Restraining Order Against Candidate Was Properly Based on Conduct, Not Protected Speech
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An unsuccessful candidate for a position on the Santa Clarita City Council in 2017 has lost his appeal from a restraining order against him obtained by a rival candidate in that race, with the Court of Appeal for this district declaring that the order was based on the candidate’s private conduct against the rival and not his constitutionally protected blog post.
The unpublished opinion was written by Presiding Justice Tricia A. Bigelow of Div. Eight. It affirms an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Laura Hymowitz.
Software Engineer Brett T. Haddock insisted that the restraining order was issued as a result of the constitutionally protected content of his blog posts—a premise Bigelow said was false.
Haddock made a public blog post on his website accusing his political rival Sean R. Weber of being “a charlatan, bully, and criminal,” among other things. In the post (still online as of press time yesterday), Haddock states that he has “made something of a second career helping to expose frauds and bullies.”
The post includes copies of court records of an expunged conviction against Weber, as well as a picture of Weber’s vehicle license plate and now-redacted contact information for Weber and his family members.
Weber claimed that, in addition to the blog post, Haddock was contacting him and his family (which the restraining order bars) through various online channels, both public and private.
Weber’s mother told the trial court:
“I fear for myself, my family, my grandchildren and my business.”
BRETT T. HADDOCK
SEAN R. WEBER
“We certainly agree he has a First Amendment right to publicly criticize a candidate for public office. The problem with his argument is that he has not included a sufficient appellate record for us to evaluate his claim. Even on a sufficient record, however, we would reject his argument because the evidence before the trial court demonstrated that Haddock also engaged in a course of private harassing conduct toward Weber and his family, which justified the restraining order notwithstanding any claimed protected speech.”
She cited the allegations that Haddock had engaged in private contact with Weber and his family.
“Perhaps most disturbing,” she said, “Haddock posted a photograph of what appeared to be Weber’s license plate. Whether or not Haddock is correct that the license plate itself was public information that Haddock was entitled to post, the trial court was free to infer that Haddock had been ‘following or stalking’ Weber in order to obtain the photograph he then posted.”
The jurist added:
“The scope of the restraining order was sufficiently narrow to avoid preventing Haddock from publicly criticizing Weber or engaging in other protected speech. The restraining order simply prevented Haddock from continuing his course of private harassing conduct toward Weber and his family by ordering Haddock not to ‘harass, intimidate, strike, stalk, threaten, destroy personal property, disturb the peace’ of Weber and his family members, and to stay 100 yards away from Weber (or 20 yards at public gatherings). The trial court was careful to note that the restraining order did not ‘control what [Haddock] wants to write or say in general about’ Weber.”
The case is Weber v. Haddock, B284011.
Robert Dudley of Floyd Skeren Manukian Langevin in Westlake Village argued for Weber. Haddock was represented on appeal by Kenneth P. White of Brown, White & Newhouse in Los Angeles.
Eugene Volokh and UCLA Law students Matthew Delbridge, Terran Hause and Brigid Mahoney prepared an amicus brief submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of Haddock.
Both Weber and Haddock are currently running for a position on the Santa Clarita City Council.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company