County homeless leader loses defamation case against ex-Atascadero mayor

Judge says Dee Torres of CAPSLO didn’t prove ‘actual malice’ in suit against Michael Brennler, a private investigator

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comSeptember 10, 2013 

A homeless advocate did not prove a private investigator acted with “actual malice” when he allegedly made damaging statements about her, a judge ruled recently, dismissing the advocate’s defamation lawsuit.

Dee Torres, homeless services coordinator of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO), sued Michael Brennler, a private investigator and former Atascadero mayor, saying he helped local news site CalCoastNews conduct a “smear campaign” against her. 

Brennler, who volunteered to help CalCoastNews investigate a series of stories about Torres and her employer, allegedly told Torres’ ex-husband during a phone call that Torres had stolen from clients at a homeless shelter.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera, however, had previously determined that Torres was a public figure, making it more difficult to sue for defamation. In a ruling issued Friday, he said Torres had not proved that Brennler acted with “actual malice” in making claims about Torres.

“There is no evidence that (the) defendant fabricated the story or that the statements were so inherently improbable that there was an obvious reason to doubt the veracity,” LaBarbera wrote in his 10-page ruling.

Torres had suggested that a key source of information for the story had a “deep hatred” for her and was not credible. But, LaBarbera wrote, there were other sources of information.

“Thus, (the) defendant was tasked with investigating these allegations,” he wrote.

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