Court Slaps Little Saigon Red-Baiter

The decades-old Little Saigon sport of falsely labeling a fellow Vietnamese immigrant “a Communist” if that person doesn’t share your right-wing politics now finally has consequences. Just ask Sinh Cuong Cao. In 2007, Kimoanh Nguyen-Lam (pictured) was fired as the nation’s first Vietnamese American superintendent of an American school board after Cao labeled her a Commie to members of the Westminster School District.

For certain infamously reactionary board members like Judy Ahrens, it didn’t matter that Nguyen-Lam, who fled Communist Vietnam in 1975, was not Communist. They used Cao’s claim to can a remarkably accomplished woman who spoke no English when she arrived in this country and, after years of succeeding in school, obtained a Ph.D in education.

You may recall there was considerable outrage by what Nguyen-Lam endured. She eventually sued Cao for committing slander. That case remains unresolved.

But in a key side legal issue, Cao last year asked the state court of appeal based in Santa Ana to overturn Orange County Superior Court Judge Charles Margines’ ruling that the evidence was strong that Cao slandered Nguyen-Lam with actual malice–meaning the false labeling was made recklessly with the intent to cause public scorn.

As a defense, Cao amazingly argued that he shouldn’t be held responsible for slandering¬† Nguyen-Lam because he’d never met her and had no first hand knowledge of her politics. Margines wasn’t amused by the attempted logic. He noted, “Nowhere does [Cao] say, ‘I learned she is a Communist from this source or that source or from her own words. If you put both of those together, what do you have? You have no place to go for his belief that she’s a Communist.”

The judge went on to compare Cao’s assertion to the “product of his imagination.”

On February 26, a three-justice court of appeal panel backed Margines’ ruling. Cao “held himself out as having inside knowledge about [Nguyen-Lam]” when all he knew about her he’d read in newspapers and “nothing in those reports hinted she was a Communist,” concluded justices Richard M. Aronson, David G. Sills and Kathleen O’Leary.

The justices also rejected Cao’s argument that calling someone a Communist isn’t derogatory nowadays. They observed what could be the understatement of the year: “The word ‘Communist’ has some real sting in the Vietnamese community in Orange County, California.”

“We’re thrilled with the court of appeal decision,” said Donna Bader, who–along with Katrina Foley (a member of the Costa Mesa City Council)–represented Nguyen-Lam, who went on to become an elected member of the Garden Grove Unified School District board. “Dr. Nguyen-Lam lost what would have been a prestigious position and now she will be able to have her case decided by a jury.”

Cao, who was represented by Mark W. Bucher (a local Republican activist) and John L. Dodd, can appeal that ruling, but if he’s not successful, the superior court slander case against him will resume in coming months.

Will this civil case finally end the tired “Communist” madness in Little Saigon? Probably not. But if he loses the slander case and is forced to pay Nguyen-Lam substantial compensation for causing her to lose her job, Cao and his ilk might think twice about spreading harmful lies in the future.

–R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly

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