Ruling seen as city setback
By Jesse Phelps
A lawsuit filed by Lisa Clark,
owner of Busy Babes Beauty Supply and Salon, against the city
of ojai, has taken a big step toward a jury trial, thanks to
a ruling by Ventura Superior Court judge Steven Hintz.
Clark's troubles with the city began around the time construction
started on the Arcade Plaza renovation, adjacent to where her
business is located. Originally, she claimed access to her business
would be impeded by the construction and asked the city to reimburse
her up to $350 per day, depending on her sales.
But the city refused.
Over the course of reimbursement discussions, Clark's attorneys,
David and Cathy Jones, allege that City Manager Dan Singer slandered
their client by asking if she was on drugs. Thus, added components
of the case include slander, intentional infliction of emotional
distress and violation of civil rights.
Ojai's city attorney, Monte Widders, said that the city believes
these comments, coming in discussions between city officials
and attorneys, should be considered privileged.
"We were arguing that it was in the course of trying to
settle the whole case," Widders said. "It was a privileged
statement. Even if it was slanderous, it was privileged, because
it was a public official making a statement as part of his public
David Jones said the real concern should be his client's emotional
state. "The bottom line is they slandered her and caused
her incredible upset and distress from day one," he said.
Apparently the judge hearing the city's latest motion for summary
judgment, an attempt to jettison the case before it reaches a
jury, found enough credibility in Clark's claim not to quash
The motion was heard on Aug. 14.
Hintz ruled on Aug. 28 that the city had "not conclusively
shown that the statements alleged as to defamation were privileged,
as having been made in the proper discharge of an official function."
Hintz's ruling said that the defendants "have not conclusively
proved that the statement was not slanderous as a matter of law."
David Jones said the ruling represents a significant victory
for his client and said the city has tried every conceivable
way to challenge the case. "They attempted to get it thrown
out of court multiple times. This is only the latest," said
Jones. "Now it's triable issue for a jury to determine."
Not so fast, said Widders. "We're considering other options,
including additional motions and additional discovery,"
he said. "She said she suffered outrageous damage to the
business. We want to see, after putting all this money into the
plaza, if she's doing any better."
Jones said he thinks the city would have been wiser to settle
the case long ago. "They should have settled it a year and
six months ago," he said. "Before she even did anything,
she asked them to just make sure they didn't close her doors.
Once it got into litigation, she made a similar demand. But between
then she'd already been slandered by Dan Singer and it had been
spreading around town."
Jones suggested that the city was not spending its tax dollars
prudently in fighting the case. "At the hearing they had
four lawyers, (mayor) Joe DeVito and Dan Singer on one side and
me and my boxes of stuff on the other. If you do the math on
this, on the various demands over time, you have four lawyers
mounting an attack on Lisa Clark and losing every time. Ojai's
tax dollars at work; what are they doing?"
Widders' rebuttal was that the city had no choice, once attacked.
"Keep in mind that we did not sue Miss Clark," he said.
"I don't waste any money on litigation if I can help it
- but we got sued."
When asked whether the city planned to settle now that the latest
ruling went in favor of the plaintiff, Widders responded with
some questions of his own. "How would the other 30 property
owners (in the arcade) feel if we settled? Wouldn't you think
Rains lost business?"
For now, no trial date has been set and Jones estimates that
it could take up to a week before that happens.
Widders said that if he files another motion before then, a judge
will have to hear it. He also said that no settlement offer has
been made by the plaintiffs. "There is a cutoff date (for
filing a motion)," he said. "It all revolves around
a trial date being set and that hasn't been done. There will
be a settlement conference when a trial date is set. Mr. Jones
has never called me about a settlement."
For his part, Jones remains confident about the case, despite
the city's repeated attempts to have it thrown out. He said that
the plaintiff would not have to show monetary losses because
of the nature of the alleged comments. "If the slander accuses
her of criminal conduct, damage is presumed," he said.
The Ojai Valley News
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