Pamela Lopez was one of 150 women in California politics who spoke out about the culture of sexism in the State Capitol back in October of 2017, when the #MeToo movement was gathering steam. But she didn’t know she would be caught in the crosshairs of the #MeToo backlash. Ms. Lopez has been sued by Matt Dababneh, at the time a sitting state Assembly member, because she accused him of sexual assault in a complaint to the State Assembly and in statements to the press. Despite the fact that multiple other women also came out to accuse him of sexual harassment, and despite the fact that her allegations were substantiated by the State Assembly, Dababneh sued her for defamation, claiming that her accusations were knowingly false.
Ms. Lopez is now at the court of appeal, arguing that Dababneh’s lawsuit should be dismissed because it is a meritless lawsuit designed to chill her and other survivors of sexual assault and harassment from speaking out against powerful perpetrators.
Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP is proud to represent Ms. Lopez in defending against this strategic lawsuit against public participation (known as a “SLAPP”). And we are heartened by the outpouring of support from influential friends of the court — First Amendment and women’s rights groups — who have submitted amicus briefs supporting Ms. Lopez and urging the Court of Appeal to throw Dababneh’s lawsuit out of court in its entirety.
Women’s rights organization Equal Rights Advocates, represented by Reed Smith, has filed an amicus brief explaining that if Dababneh prevails, then anyone who accuses any high-profile figure of misconduct can be sued for defamation simply if the accused denies it. This will push sexual assault survivors back into the shadows, undoing the important progress of the #MeToo movement, emboldening perpetrators and endangering the women, trans people, men and children they target.
The ACLU of Northern and Southern California, represented by Munger, Tolles, and Olsen, have also filed an amicus brief, pointing out that public attention — through statements to the press — is critical for legislative advocacy. If Ms. Lopez can be sued for remarks she made to the press in connection with a campaign to end sexual harassment in the Capitol, the ACLU and other organizations that uphold civil rights would similarly be hamstrung in doing its job of advocating for policy change.
The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with 13 other media organizations and represented by the University of Virginia’s First Amendment Clinic, filed an amicus brief focusing on the “fair report” privilege. This privilege is meant to protect people like Pam Lopez who tell the press about the contents of an otherwise privileged communication — such as Ms. Lopez’s complaint to the Assembly. If this privilege were weakened, then the media would not be able to do its job without fear of lawsuits.
And law professor Dr. Mary Anne Franks, a First Amendment expert, along with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, represented by Davis, Wright Tremaine, filed a brief emphasizing the important First Amendment rights at stake, and urged the court of appeal not to rely on sexist stereotypes or assumptions about sexual assault.
Pamela Lopez is represented by Jean Hyams and Hilary Hammell of this law firm, joined on appeal by Mark Goldowitz of the California Anti-SLAPP Project.