Gomez boasts endorsements from the National Union of Healthcare Workers, Planned Parenthood, and the North County Labor Alliance.
According to some named in a defamation lawsuit filed by Oceanside City Council candidate Michelle Gomez, the suit is a way to silence those who claim she ripped them off.
The lawsuit arose when Gomez, 50, was called out for allegedly not paying her field director and three others who worked on her 2018 campaign for County Supervisor. They claimed that they were lied to by Gomez and denied all or part of their promised pay while Gomez’s husband Don, 38, was paid $17,090 for that campaign.
“This is exactly what Trump does,” says Carlsbad free speech attorney Daniel Watts. “He files frivolous defamation of character lawsuits against contractors who were stiffed by Trump.”
If true, that ploy has apparently had its desired effect on four of the seven defendants Gomez named in the suit. Defendants Katherine Hogue, Dan Shook Castillo, Luca Barton and Matt Duburg were recently dismissed from the suit and in exchange have agreed to keep quiet about Gomez going forward.
“She’s targeting people that she didn’t pay and doesn’t want to pay,” says attorney Watts. “She is retaliating against people who exercise their First Amendment to complain about a candidate for public office who’s not doing what she promised.”
Robert Leahy: “I will not be so cowed.”
Watts is representing one of the three remaining defendants, Robert Leahy, who was contracted to post signs. Watts has filed a so-called anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion to strike against Gomez in response to the Gomez suit filed in August.
Still named in Gomez’s suit is consultant Gary Gartner, field director Rachel Bartlett, and The Line Printing Company of Chula Vista.
In addition to libel and slander, the Gomez lawsuit alleges “civil conspiracy” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The claims of her former campaign workers derailed her previous endorsement from the San Diego Progressive Democratic Club who retracted their endorsement in August after being presented with a 49-page “Argument To Not Endorse Michelle Gomez for Oceanside City Council 2020.” Also in August, the San Diego County Central Committee voted to ignore its North County Caucus recommendation that Gomez and her fellow District 4 candidate Jane Marshall both get sanctioned as “qualified.” The San Diego Central Committee voted instead to give the nomination exclusively to Marshall.
The current Gomez city council campaign has heavily promoted her endorsements including nods from the National Union of Healthcare Workers, Planned Parenthood, and the North County Labor Alliance.
Assemblyman Todd Gloria tops her political endorsement list. Gloria’s campaign manager Nick Serrano was forwarded the same 49-page document that helped the Progressive Democrats decide to rescind their endorsement. “The allegations that have been shared with us are deeply concerning to Todd, particularly as someone who has stood up and fought for workers his entire career,” Serrano responded. “Todd will make a determination as to whether we can continue to endorse Ms. Gomez's candidacy." On October 27, Serrano declined to comment further.
One attorney who declined to be named says he was waiting in the wings to help Bartlett but that the point is moot since she has not even been served. “It is my understanding that most of these defendants have not been served,” says the attorney. “You have to wonder if they are serious about this… This is all an attempt[for Gomez] to gag political speech.” The attorney wonders how strong the Gomez case would be if it ever made it court. “After all she is a public figure. And you have to prove malice.”
One high-profile case of libel law involved former USMC colonel Doug Applegate who was narrowly defeated in his 2016 bid to unseat congressman Darrel Issa. That was the last race Issa ran in the 49th congressional district. Applegate is now a trial attorney. Issa sued Applegate over defamation of character claims. “He lost twice in two different courts,” says Applegate of Issa’s attempt to sue. Applegate says the losses ended up costing Issa six figures in attorney fees. “To Issa, that is just a drop in the bucket. But for most of us, I think you need to be concerned about facing six-figure attorney fees against you.”
Leahy, 37, is a Navy veteran who says he has started a GoFund me page to help him with his legal expenses. “I am informed that several of the co-defendants have agreed to drop their wage claims in exchange for the plaintiff dismissing this frivolous lawsuit against them,” he says in his anti-SLAPP motion. “I will not be so cowed.”
Leahy says he will continue the anti-SLAPP motion (the first hearing is January 8) and will pursue financial remedy through his claim of unpaid wages with the California Labor Board. Dan Shook dropped his wage claim with the labor board when he was dismissed from the suit, but Bartlett is still pursuing her labor board claims (totaling $3,000-plus) against Gomez. Leahy has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay his legal bills.
Attorney Watts says he was more than willing to cooperate with Gomez on settling this suit. “All we asked was that they pay the $725 that they owed [Leahy] for his work.” He says the offer was refused, and Michelle Gomez is now facing an additional $5,000 in labor board-sanctioned fees as well as attorney fees.
Leahy says he would not rule out a separate malicious prosecution suit against Gomez in the future.
Gomez attorney Theo Slater of Sacramento said by phone, “I am not willing to comment on ongoing litigation.” Michelle Gomez ignored a request for comment.