C.A. Says Recitation in Press Release of Witness’s Statement Was Absolutely Privileged
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who claims he was set up by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies in 2007 on a bogus charge of attempted murder, and made repeated ill-starred attempts to gain redress in the courts, has failed in his effort to persuade the Court of Appeal that the 2017 republication on a website of a newspaper article from 10 years before identifying him as an assailant creates a fresh cause of action for defamation.
The plaintiff, Lancaster resident Lumbsden A. Sangster, now 56, was acquitted by a jury on Aug. 7, 2009, and has been on a quest to establish, judicially, that he was a victim of official misconduct.
An opinion from Div. Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, filed Thursday and not certified for publication, affirms a summary judgment granted by San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Janet M. Frangie in favor of the defendant, former San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Detective Anthony Valencia. Valencia in 2007 prepared a press release, put out by his department, reciting that a witness had identified Sangster as the assailant; that release formed a basis for the newspaper report.
Whether the recent republication of that 2007 article on a website creates a new cause of action against Valencia is not in issue, Justice Carol D. Codrington wrote, explaining that the pertinent question “is whether the fair reporting privilege applies to Valencia’s press release,” declaring:
“We conclude that it does.”
Civil Code Section
She pointed out that Civil Code §47(d) renders absolutely privileged “a fair and true report” relating to a “public official proceeding” that is published either “in…a public journal” or—like the press release—contained in “a communication” to such a publication.
Codrington noted that it has been held that a “public official proceeding” encompasses a law enforcement investigation.
She quoted Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild of this district’s Div. One as saying in her 2016 opinion in Healthsmart Pacific, Inc. v. Kabateck, which involved a defamation action against Brian S. Kabateck (who since then served as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association), and against other attorneys:
“Although the fair report privilege is typically invoked by news media defendants, it also protects those who communicate information to the media.”
The case is Sangster v. Valencia, E073478.
In a 2014 letter posted on “an alternative news site,” Sangster provided his account of the events on Jan. 7, 2007. He said that sheriff’s deputies came to his house pursuant to a report of a disturbance, ordered those present in the house to exit, and “initially shot up the inside of the house,” proceeding to “plant bullets and projectile,” and “vandalizing the house,” causing damages exceeding $10,000.
Sangster charged that deputies falsely alleged that he had himself effected the damage, saying that this was “in the course of…trying to kill my now ex girlfriend and the guy I caught her in bed with,” adding that law enforcement authorities proceeded to coach witnesses and falsify evidence.
He said of himself:
“I have been a working class person since the age of eighteen and have not missed a year since then, I became self employed before I was thirty, in transportation and a transportation broker, owning four big rigs and trailer, investment properties, a house, furniture, tools and equipment, washing machine and drier, refrigerator and freezer, four cars…, two dogs, a gold fish, and the proud supporter of The California Police Activities League (PAL) and I also had a life!!!”
On July 20, 2010, Sangster filed a claim against a governmental entity, San Bernardino County, the filing of such a claim being a statutory prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit. The claim was rejected by the county nine days later as untimely, not having been brought within six months of the 2007 events.
Sangster sued; a judge of the San Bernardino Superior Court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend and a judgment of dismissal ensued; Div. Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed on Feb. 27, 2012, saying:
“Sangster only had a limited period of time in which to file his claims against the County of San Bernardino. Although he was charged and prosecuted with a crime resulting from the incident on January 7, 2007, and he was not exonerated until August 7, 2009, the time to file a claim against defendant continued to run while the charges were pending before a superior court.”
The California Supreme Court denied review.
On Nov. 16, 2012, Sangster brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, with his complaint duplicating allegations put forth in the San Bernardino Superior Court. On May 15, 2013, the action was dismissed with prejudice based on the doctrine of res judicata. There was no appeal.
Then, on Aug. 1, 2013, Sangster brought suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of California against the state and prosecutors in San Bernardino. The District Court dismissed based on Eleventh Amendment immunity for the state and prosecutorial immunity for members of the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office.
The Ninth Circuit on April 7, 2014, affirmed in a brief order that said “the questions raised in this appeal are so insubstantial as not to require further argument.”
Sangster brought a civil rights action in the District Court for the Central District of California on May 4, 2015, against sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors in San Bernardino; it was dismissed with prejudice on Feb. 8, 2016; the Ninth Circuit on July 21 affirmed, saying:
“The district court correctly found that appellant’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations.”
Protesting the rejection of his court efforts, Sangster said in the 2014 letter posted on a website:
“I do not believe the court have put into any consideration that I am a person fighting for justice and not an attorney and do not know the legality of the judicial system, what motion to file and when, what route to take, the legal tricks of the system and believe me they are many, but I do know what’s right and what’s wrong and what is really wrong is there are crafty attorney working for the defendants with a bag of tricks not representing the law or the Constitution but to see how many times they can twist the words of law and get their colleague off the hook.”
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