Soria appeals ruling on Karbassi’s campaign defamation suit to Calif. Supreme Court

A two-year defamation battle over campaign mailers from a 2022 Assembly race could be headed to California’s highest court.

A legal battle over a two-year-old campaign mailer has led to Asm. Esmeralda Soria (D–Fresno) filing an appeal with the California Supreme Court seeking to strike down a lawsuit filed against her Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi, her former colleague and one-time Assembly opponent. 

Soria is asking the California Supreme Court to review her request for an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the defamation lawsuit Karbassi filed against her. 


The backstory: Karbassi and Soria, then colleagues on the Fresno City Council, ran against each other in the June 2022 primary election for the 27th Assembly district, which Soria ended up winning. 

  • Shortly before the primary, Soria sent out a double-sided campaign mailer to some voters that highlighted Karbassi’s office expenditures as well as his hiring of a consultant, former City Councilman Brian Calhoun, who had been found guilty of assault against a college student. 
  • Soria placed Karbassi’s picture on the mailer next to statements “Guilty of battery against a student,” “Arrested and cited for assault and battery of a 19-year-old female student” and “Was I wrong? Yes I touched her when she didn’t want to be touched.” 
  • The lawsuit was initially thrown out in court when Soria filed an anti-SLAPP motion, but in January the Fifth District Court of Appeal vacated the motion. 
  • The appellate court ruled the mailer did not make it clear that the criminal allegations refer solely to the consultant and not to Karbassi. 
  • The appellate court also ruled there is evidence that Soria intended some readers to misattribute a confession and criminal conduct to Karbassi by how the mailer was presented. 

The big picture: Soria filed the appeal to the California Supreme Court on Monday, arguing that the Fresno County Superior Court (which sided with her) and the 5th District Court of Appeal (which sided with Karbassi) disagreed as to what evidence can and cannot be considered for anti-SLAPP motions. 

  • Part of that evidence comes from an article from GV Wire in 2022, in which a Soria campaign spokesperson is quoted as saying Karbassi “got a taste of his own medicine,” pointing to anti-Soria mailers that Karbassi had previously sent out. 
  • Soria argues in the appeal that the statement does not show anything about her intent to make a false statement about Karbassi. She argues that the statement, which is allegedly from her own campaign, is hearsay and is not admissible in court. 
  • Soria also argues that the only way that evidence could be admitted at trial would be for GV Wire reporter David Taub or the constituents that Karbassi said had believed he committed a crime to testify. 

What they’re saying: “Soria is not aware of any applicable hearsay exception or legal basis to admit such testimony,… it would undermine the entire statutory framework of the anti-SLAPP statute,” the appeal reads. 

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