See the update at the bottom of this post to review Judge Bauer's ruling in the official Minute Order.
ORIGINAL POST: APRIL 22, 8:00 A.M.: An Orange County Superior Court judge this month dismissed a defamation lawsuit by Shaheen Sadeghi after concluding the wealthy, often-controversial Orange County real-estate developer's legal action was an improper use of the court system to stifle public debate about his maneuverings.
Judge Ronald L. Bauer granted a case-ending motion by Walt Sadler, the attorney for Delilah Snell--owner of a small, successful Santa Ana business, The Road Less Traveled--after concluding her statements made for a 2011 OC Weekly profile about Sadeghi were "a matter of opinion and thus beyond the scope of provable defamation."
Snell told Weekly reporter Michelle Woo, who wrote "The Lab Man"--a largely favorable report on Sadeghi--the businessman had threatened to copy her eco-friendly business if she did not rent space at one of his retail centers.
The judge viewed the dispute as a David-vs.-Goliath battle. He said Sadeghi "has a large footprint in Orange County," with many retail centers--including the Lab and the CAMP in Costa Mesa--while Snell, fiancée of Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano, "is a small player on the scene."
In his lawsuit, Sadeghi argued that Snell's comment constituted defamation, invasion of privacy and multiple business-related claims, all of which caused him damages.
Snell argued that Sadeghi's court complaint was merely designed to silence critics, a key point Sadler made in his successful motion describing the case as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
After noting that Sadeghi tried to convert a single quote into nine "redundant causes of action," erroneously claiming he'd been wronged by "multiple quotations," Bauer sided with Snell.
"The plaintiff's ethics, business plans and impact on the community are all matters of public interest," the judge wrote in his four-page, April 15 ruling. "The plaintiff has also not shown that he has suffered any damage--or even a hint thereof--as a consequence of this article."
Bauer, one of Orange County's most respected, veteran judges, also determined Snell's statement didn't accuse Sadeghi of any wrongdoing and the businessman had no probability of winning his complaint in court.
"The worst thing that could perhaps be said about [Snell's] statement is that it might imply that Sadeghi is a bully," Bauer wrote. "It might be said, with no small amount of irony, that if it can indeed be proven that a person is a bully, this lawsuit would be Exhibit 1 in that proof."
In a separate lawsuit, Sadeghi also sued the Weekly for the same news story; it is pending in Judge David T. McEachen's Santa Ana courtroom. A June 10 case-management conference is scheduled.
UPDATE, APRIL 24, 3:00 p.m.:
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