Sonoran News prevails in Lopez lawsuit

Talamante noted everything published about the matter in 2013 was ‘bootstrapped’ to the council meeting on Oct. 15, 2007

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gilbert lopezMESA – Following oral arguments on Friday, April 10, Superior Court Judge David Talamante granted Sonoran News’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing Gilbert Lopez’s (r) defamation complaint.

The complaint focused on articles and editorials published by Sonoran News about Lopez, a former Cave Creek councilman and vice mayor, promising approximately $10,000 to the Carefree-Cave Creek Chamber of Commerce in 2007 to fund a visitor information center.

According to the minutes from that meeting, as well as the understanding of many in attendance, Lopez claimed, “[T]he town’s credibility is at risk here where we assured the director of the Carefree-Cave Creek Chamber that the funds were available and now they are not.”

Lopez, who was the only council member that voted in favor of providing the funds to the chamber waited until 2013 to deny having made that promise, which was contrary to information provided to Sonoran News prior to the October 2007 meeting by former Town Manager Usama Abujbarah, who said Lopez came to him for the money because he was under the impression Abujbarah could authorize expenditures up to $10,000.

Abujbarah said he told Lopez he could authorize expenditures up to $10,000 but only if they are budgeted.

His request for the chamber was not budgeted and Abujbarah explained it would require council approval to determine where the money would come from.

Abujbarah told Sonoran News Lopez became upset and stated, “But I gave him my word,” referring to Chamber Director Ian Ellison.

Sonoran News published an editorial in 2008 touching on Lopez’s “promise.”

However, it wasn’t until the spring of 2013, Lopez raised the issue for the first time since 2007 during Call to the Public at a town council meeting, where he denied having made the promise 6 years earlier.

He filed his lawsuit on July 19, 2013.

Lopez initially engaged Attorney Steven Mahaffy, the same attorney Gerald Freeman has been using over the years to sue his next door neighbor Don Sorchych, publisher/editor of Sonoran News.

The case languished in court for over 150 days and was set for automatic dismissal on June 16, 2014.

On Feb. 13, 2014, Christopher Ingle of the Rose Law Group, where former Vice Mayor Adam Trenk, who Lopez supported during the recall election, is employed, was substituted as Lopez’s counsel.

In June 2014, Rose Law Group announced it hired Samuel Doncaster, who refers to himself on his LinkedIn profile as senior litigator at the Rose Law Group.

Doncaster argued against the motion for summary judgment on behalf of Lopez, who was not present in court.

In granting Sonoran News’ motion for summary judgment, Talamante, who denied Lopez’s motion to amend his complaint to add Abujbarah as a defendant, noted everything published about the matter in 2013 was “bootstrapped” to the council meeting on Oct. 15, 2007 and based on what was said and documented during that meeting.

Talamante determined Lopez is a public figure, which requires proof of actual malice. The judge found Lopez had not presented sufficient evidence of actual malice to withstand summary judgment.

Sonoran News was represented by attorneys Craig Morgan and Jennifer Allen of Stinson Leonard Street, LLP, who hailed Talamante’s order.

Allen said, “The dismissal of Gilbert Lopez's lawsuit against the Sonoran News represents a huge victory for the First Amendment and the free press.”

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