A local blogger sued for alleged defamation by the former dean of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering had a right to free speech, a Los Angeles County judge has ruled.
Mohammad Noori filed a lawsuit last year against Roger Freberg of San Luis Obispo and several other defendants, including Cal Poly, alleging defamation, wrongful termination and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jan Levine ruled in May in favor of a motion to dismiss the case against Freberg, noting his blogs were “constitutionally protected speech in connection with an issue of public interest.”
Levine also ruled that Noori must pay Freberg almost $17,000 to compensate him for legal fees.
Noori accused Freberg of writing racist and defamatory articles that appeared on a website, including a 2008 blog entitled “Cal Poly training tomorrow’s terrorists?” in reference to a proposed partnership with a Saudi Arabian university engineering program.
The lawsuit cited a photo of Osama bin Laden’s face cropped onto the body of a man, who Noori alleged was a photo of him, wearing a Cal Poly engineering sweatshirt. The Saudi Arabian deal never materialized after contract negotiations fell through.
“Looking back, although I got sued for my troubles, helping to bring to light the Cal Poly/Saudi Arabia business arrangement was well worth it,” Freberg told The Tribune in an email. “Saudi Arabia discriminates and our public institutions are mandated not to. This was a clear conflict of interests.”
Freberg’s lawyer, Bruce Lorman, said that he was pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“People exercising their First Amendment rights should not have those rights chilled by the fear of a lawsuit,” Lorman said.
The case against the other defendants is ongoing. The defendants including the university, Cal Poly employees Unny Menon and Bert Koob, and local online journalist Karen Velie have denied the allegations.
Levine also has transferred the lawsuit to San Luis Obispo Superior Court from Los Angeles County, where it was filed originally last year.
The university announced Noori’s move from dean to a faculty position in the College of Engineering in June 2010.
Cal Poly named Debra Larson, an associate engineering dean at Northern Arizona University, the new permanent engineering dean at Cal Poly last month.
Attempts to reach lawyers representing Noori were unsuccessful.
A case management conference has been set for the other defendants on Nov. 8 at San Luis Obispo Superior Court.