Sacramento, CA, October 1, 2021 – Today, the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, ruled that a former member of the California Assembly cannot sue the woman who accused him of sexual assault. In holding that the fair report privilege applies in the case of Dababneh v. Lopez, the court’s ruling protects survivors who report assaults perpetrated by government officials.
In 2017, lobbyist Pam Lopez provided testimony to the California Assembly about Matt Dababneh sexually assaulting her in 2016. She then spoke at a press conference about the information she had provided to the Assembly. Dababneh sued Lopez for defamation based on her testimony to the California legislature and statements she made at a press conference. The case is one of the many examples where alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct use the law to try to sue survivors into silence. The court’s decision today that the fair report privilege applies to Lopez’s remarks to the press, makes clear that survivors who speak to the press about misconduct they have reported have the right to be heard without the threat of being sued by the accused perpetrator of their assault. In ruling in Lopez’ favor, the Court of Appeals instructed the lower court to grant Lopez’ motion to dismiss the case in its entirety and to cover Lopez’ attorney’s fees for having to mount a defense.
Pam Lopez responded to the court’s decision, “Today’s ruling reinforces that we will not be silent. As we have learned since 2017, this abuse occurs in every institution where men wield power. When you look at me, know that there are thousands of other survivors who want to speak out.” Since first speaking out, Lopez has founded Work Equity, a peer network to support survivors to fight against sexual harassment and assault.
“The court’s decision is a victory for a courageous survivor who came forward and reported an assault by a powerful government official,” said Jean Hyams of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams, LLP, attorneys for Ms. Lopez. “When Ms. Lopez came forward years ago, it took courage for her to tell her story and seek justice. Today, the court has sent a message that survivors have a right to report what happened to them to the institutions charged with protecting against abuse, and to report through the press what they have done so the powerful can be held accountable. Survivors need to be able to use their voice to change institutions that have too long protected the powerful and to speak out about abuse, regardless of the title or position of their accuser or legal maneuvering they attempt to use to stop justice.”
The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund helped to fund part of Lopez’s defense in this case. “We are proud that we were able to help Pam Lopez after she bravely spoke up,” said Sharyn Tejani, Director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. “Survivors should be able to come forward without the fear of the legal system being used against them.”
In addition to financial support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, Lopez drew support from a number of public interest legal organizations in her defense of her right to speak out. Mark Goldowitz of the the California Anti-SLAPP Project was co-counsel on the appeal and numerous organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs in support of Lopez, including Equal Rights Advocates, ACLU of Northern and Southern California, The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. LVBH attorney Hilary Hammell argued the case on appeal.
About Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams
Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams represents survivors of harassment, discrimination and retaliation, along with all workers, in lawsuits for violations of civil rights.
About California Anti-SLAPP Project
CASP is a public interest law firm and policy organization dedicated to fighting Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in California.
About The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund
The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund supports individuals who’ve experienced sexual harassment or retaliation at work to come forward to seek justice – and to protect others from similar behavior.