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Home / News / Politics / Judge dismisses water district’s suit against its own board member

Judge dismisses water district’s suit against its own board member

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Citing First Amendment grounds, a judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Central Basin Municipal Water District against one of its board members who posted online videos and sent letters invoking the district’s name, allegedly without the consent of its general manager or the entire board.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern ruled Thursday that despite the district’s arguments to the contrary, Board Member Leticia Vasquez never “claimed or asserted that she was speaking on behalf of the district” with her postings’ content.

“She did no more than appear in videos that were posted on YouTube,” Stern wrote. “Likewise, there is no evidence before the court that the defendant engaged in any type of branding. She was not using a Central Basin brand nor any other kind of brand.”

The judge, who heard arguments July 21 and took the case under submission, also said there was no evidence Vasquez violated a section of the district’s administrative Code with her postings.

“Nothing in this section prevents an elected director from using letterhead nor from appearing in interviews,” Stern wrote. “This section does not prevent defendant from identifying herself as a duly elected member of the Central Basin board of directors.”

Stern’s dismissal of the district’s case was “without prejudice,” meaning it can be refiled under appropriate circumstances.

Vasquez, a former Lynwood mayor, previously told City News Service that the lawsuit was “an effort to chill free speech and silence me about the toxic water being sold to our community. I stand by my statements.”

Vasquez’s dismissal motion was brought under the state’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — law, which is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

Vasquez has filed a separate lawsuit against the water district in which she states that as a whistleblower who publicly disclosed a “multitude of wrongdoing and corruption at Central Basin,” a conspiracy exists to stop her from “publicly speaking and otherwise disclosing illegal, improper, unreasonable, immoral and unethical activities” at the district.

Vasquez’s suit also is the subject of an anti-SLAPP motion, this time by the district, that is scheduled for hearing on Aug. 19 before Judge Holly Fujie.

According to the district’s suit filed in April 2021, the district’s administrative code prevents directors from posting videos or using its logo or stationery for business or non-district business, including any solicitation or other political activity, without approval from the general manager.

In September 2020, Vasquez posted on YouTube.com a video about water quality in Pico Rivera in which she referred to the district, identified herself as a board member and stated she wanted “to encourage both the city of Pico Rivera and the Pico Water District to consider purchasing water from the Central Basin,” the suit stated.

Vasquez posted another video in March 2021, this time dealing with water quality, in which she once again referred to herself as a board member and placed the district’s name into captions within the video, the suit stated.

The video also was made in association with the Political Life group, the suit stated. The group’s website stated that Vasquez appeared in the video after agreeing to an interview regarding the video’s subject matter, according to the suit.

Vasquez allegedly posted a third video in association with the Political Life group regarding AB 1195, the California Safe Drinking Water Act, in which she also invoked the district’s name.

The videos “give the viewer the impression that (Vasquez) is making authorized statements on behalf of (the district) or that (the district) was otherwise involved in the creation of, or associated with, the videos, particularly given (Vasquez’s) direct reference to her position on (the district’s) board of directors,” the suit stated.

Although Vasquez and Political Life are free to express their personal views, the use of the district’s name in public, political statements without the district’s permission is contrary to its administrative code, the suit stated.

Vasquez also used district letterhead when writing in April 2021 to the cities of Santa Fe Springs, Lakewood, Downey and Signal Hill, the suit stated.

The district’s general counsel advised Vasquez to stop her alleged unauthorized use of district materials, but the request was ignored, prompting the filing of the lawsuit, according to the district’s court papers.

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