Ocean View School District trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin is as tough as they come, but even she has legal limits. Attorneys for the school board member filed a lawsuit on Mar. 22 in Orange County Superior Court against Huntington Beach blogger Chuck Johnson for defamation, harassment and making criminal threats against an elected public official. Johnson runs the HB Sledgehammer, a website whose only real accomplishment is being viler than the infamous Huntington Beach Community Forum on Facebook.
Even though Clayton-Tarvin’s been on the school board since December 2012, the trouble began after she won reelection on Nov. 8, 2016. According to court documents, that’s when Johnson started to publish “harassing, hostile, vile and vicious personal attacks” against Clayton-Tarvin on social media and his website which serve “no legitimate purpose and goes far beyond the bounds of constitutionally protected speech.” The suit alleges that Johnson repeatedly promised to keep up the conduct for the purposes of intimidating the liberal Democrat into resigning from her elected position.
To that end, a list of alleged threats are compiled. Most recently, Johnson attended an OVSD board of trustees meeting on Mar. 6, 2018 and threatened to deliver Clayton-Tarvin’s “head on a stick.” For those who interpret the quote as a belligerent political metaphor, other comments are far more blunt. “Crooked Gina–Be quiet or be killed,” Johnson is alleged to have threatened on social media in Nov. 2016. Last August, a blog post on HB Sledgehammer warned Clayton-Tarvin and “the entire Tarvin family” by writing, “Gotta sharpen up my axe. Lot of dead wood to clear out.”
The suit also alleges that defamatory and harassing statements have been made about Clayton-Tarvin within the past year to harm her personal and professional reputation. She’s been called a “whore” who has a “cozy relationship” with an elected official and that their “strange love mews..are the result of cash or a someone tounge [sic] on [his] sphincter.” Keeping it classy, eh Chuckie? Aside from taking a sledgehammer to the English language, the suit claims that by posting a picture of a “Live Nude Girls Girls Girl” establishment directed at the trustee and asking “Does she have a side job?” Johnson implied that Clayton-Tarvin moonlights at a strip club.
Why all the Gina hate? The suit charts Johnson’s conduct against her following the 2016 election, but Clayton-Tarvon became the target of greater ire in Huntington Beach before that when since she sided with residents of the city’s Mexi-majority Oak View barrio in their fight against a garbage dump near the neighborhood and an elementary school. (See Gustavo Arellano’s “Stink City: Huntington Beach’s Oak View Barrio is Finally Fighting the Garbage Dump Next Door,” Jul. 15, 2015). The school district ended up filing a lawsuit in the effort and settled in 2016. More recently, Republic Services, which previously acquired Rainbow Environmental Services, missed a South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Dec. 1 2017 deadline to fully enclose the dump. It now has until this May 31.
Back to Clayton-Tarvin’s own litigation, it appears Johnson’s certainly taken notice. The front page of HB Sledgehammer strikes a free speech martyr pose with a picture of a protester holding a sign reading “We Are the First Amendment.” Johnson also wrote an Apr. 4 blog post about SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suits claiming that they are filed for a number of reasons ranging from attempts to silence political critics to “Bat Shit Craziness.” A week after the suit, HB Sledgehammer had more to say. “We vet everything we publish,” Johnson wrote. “Nothing false goes out. We engage in satire and wide open criticism, of inept and unqualified public officials, in the public interest.”
But Clayton-Tarvin’s lawyers argue that Johnson’s threats posted on the website and communicated elsewhere violate a number of criminal statutes, even if there’s no intent of actually carrying them out. Through legal recourse, she’s seeking damages for emotional distress and anguish in an amount to be determined during a trial. More immediately, the HB trustee sought a restraining order against Johnson and got one.
Filed four days after the suit, Clayton-Tarvin obtained a temporary restraining order until the next court hearing about it. In documents, she reiterates all the key points in the suit, but adds a bit more detail than was afforded by its dry legalese. Turning back to the Mar. 6 school board meeting, Clayton-Tarvin notes that Johnson kept interrupting the meeting with profanity and accusations of her being a liar after she spoke about firsthand experiences with school lock downs. Armed security had to remove him from the room until his time came to speak during public comments. That’s when Johnson delivered the “head on a stick” comment.
A court hearing on the restraining order is scheduled for next Wednesday.