Small business owner Tawni Angel has won the first round of her court battle against a radical animal rights activist who is attempting to ban Angel’s popular pony rides from a weekly Santa Monica farmers’ market. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart-Cole ruled last Thursday that Angel’s lawsuit against activist Marcy Winograd can proceed, finding that Angel demonstrated a “sufficient probability of prevailing” on the question of whether Winograd had defamed her.
Winograd had filed a motion to quash Angel’s lawsuit, claiming that the case was a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” (SLAPP) designed to stop her and fellow activists from exercising their right to campaign against the pony rides. But the judge rejected Winograd’s “anti-SLAPP” motion, ruling there was “sufficient evidence” that Winograd had made false statements about Angel’s treatment of the ponies with “actual malice,” knowing the statements were untrue.
The judge also ruled that the lawsuit could proceed on a claim that Winograd had committed “intentional interference with prospective economic advantage,” since the Santa Monica City Council had based its decision not to renew Angel’s contract on the basis of Winograd’s “defamatory statements.” The judge did find that Angel could not sue Winograd for emotional distress, and also barred Angel’s suit against an animal rights activist who had posted “rants” against her on Facebook.
Angel’s attorney, Don Chomiak, said in a press release that Winograd’s free speech claims had failed. “The judge got it right,” he said, noting that Winograd had accused Angel of cruelty to her ponies despite being “put on notice by a city official…that the animals were healthy, well- watered and in comfortable conditions.”
Many members of the Santa Monica community have rallied behind Angel in an effort to convince the city council to change its mind and retain the pony rides.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak