Dee Torres, the homeless services coordinator for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, has filed a defamation lawsuit against a private investigator from Atascadero.
The lawsuit alleges that Mike Brennler, former Atascadero mayor and a licensed private investigator, made false statements about Torres in a phone conversation.
In that call, made to Torres’ ex-husband Charles Barber, Brennler is alleged to have said Torres had been stealing money from homeless clients.
San Luis Obispo attorney Roy Ogden said in the lawsuit that those comments, deemed slanderous, exposed Torres to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because they implied she did something unlawful or unethical in her profession.
Brennler declined to comment. His attorney, Stewart Jenkins, who recently won a lawsuit against the city of San Luis Obispo related to its treatment of the homeless, declined to elaborate on the case.
“It should have never been brought,” Jenkins said. “That is all I am going to say.”
The suit seeks a sum of more than $50,000. A lawsuit represents only one side in civil litigation.
Defamation lawsuits are rare because they are so difficult to prove, said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
In California, most defamation suits involve celebrities, and most are settled before going to trial, Ewert said.
Ogden said the purpose of the lawsuit is to get whatever potential justice is available and “to stop him from telling lies.”
“When someone makes a false statement about you representing it as fact, that is significant,” Ogden said. “He (Brennler) called her a thief.”
It is unclear who hired Brennler to do the investigative work, Ogden said.
Neither Brennler nor Jenkins would say who, if anyone, Brennler was working for.
However, in recent months the online news site CalCoastNews has done a series of stories focusing on Torres for alleged mismanagement of donations and funds of the homeless services programs she oversees.
Jim Famalette, chief operating officer of CAPSLO, said this week that the agency stands in full support of Torres. She filed the lawsuit as an individual, not as an employee of CAPSLO, Famalette said.
An email query placed to Karen Velie, a reporter involved in the CAPSLO stories, went unanswered Friday.
The lawsuit is written in a way that additional plaintiffs can be named as the case moves forward. Ogden declined to say who those plaintiffs might be.
“I am not ready to name names until I have evidence to indicate culpability,” Ogden said.
The lawsuit makes it clear that they would be people associated with both radio broadcasting and an online news agency.
An anti-Slapp motion could be filed by the defendant to stop the lawsuit from moving forward unless Ogden can show that the case will prevail.
“I’m not concerned about it,” Ogden said. “If one is filed and I have to oppose it, I will be happy to, knowing I am going to win.”