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Court dismisses harassment claim against Velazquez, Resendiz

Irma Gonzalez and Elia Salinas accused officials of cyber bullying

A Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit, filed by Irma Gonzalez and Elia Salinas, that accused two Hollister city officials of harassing and cyber-bullying them over the course of several months.

Salinas and Gonzalez—an elected trustee for the Gavilan College Board of Education—each filed a formal complaint against Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and City Councilmember Rolan Resendiz in December and January, respectively. Gonzalez also filed a complaint against the same defendants on behalf of her daughter.

The lawsuits claim that social media comments, repeated electronic communications and an in-person confrontation at a local bank amounted to harassment and cyber-bullying of the two plaintiffs.

However, the San Benito County Superior Court judge’s order states that Velazquez’ and Resendiz’ statements and actions are legally protected free speech.

The order classifies Gonzalez’ and Salinas’ lawsuit as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The judge granted Velazquez’ and Resendiz’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the California Code of Civil Procedure “anti-SLAPP statute,” which protects any “act in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue.”

“(Plaintiff) has failed to respond at all to the Defendants’ motion. Therefore, each and every cause of action is hereby stricken,” says the July 1 order dismissing all three complaints filed by Salinas, Gonzalez and Gonzalez’ daughter.

The plaintiffs also named the City of Hollister as a defendant, but the July 1 order dismisses the complaint against the city as well.

Velazquez said it is the plaintiffs who have been harassing him, and he hopes the dismissal of their lawsuit will convince them to stop.

“The truth always prevails,” he said. “This is a great example of a group of people that had consistently lied and tried to mislead the public in favor of those who are in favor of development. They need to stop already.”

Both the mayor and Resendiz said Gonzales and Salinas—along with other members of the public who are sympathetic to their political views—have created caricatures and fake social media accounts to harass the two elected officials.

“They thought they could shake down the city and harass elected officials with no consequences. I’m grateful the court decided on behalf of us,” Resendiz said.

Brad Sullivan, attorney for Gonzalez and Salinas, said the plaintiffs will consider their next course of action over the next 90 days—the court’s deadline to file an amended complaint that would keep the lawsuit alive.

“We’ll thread the needle with our pleadings, trying to balance the protection the Constitution gives to freedom of speech,” Sullivan said July 2. “We believe the line was crossed…(and) there are limitations” to free speech.

The judge’s July 1 order also requires the plaintiff to pay the defendants’ legal fees, with Salinas to pay $7,610 and Gonzalez and her daughter each ordered to pay $3,760.

The July 1 dismissal of the lawsuit is the latest chapter in a long simmering war of words with Velazquez and Resendiz on one side, and Gonzalez, Salinas and other vocal residents of Hollister on the other.

The ongoing tension between the two factions led a council majority made up of former Council members Honor Spencer, Marty Richman and Carol Lenoir voting to censure Resendiz in January 2020 for making repeated negative social media posts.

A month later, Velazquez and Resendiz floated a resolution to censure Richman and Spencer for some offensive comments they made about Resendiz, but that motion failed.

Salinas’ complaint points to social media posts in which Resendiz referred to her as “cuca,” which she identified as a Spanish slur for female genitalia. Her complaint accused Velazquez of inciting and encouraging Resendiz’ comments.

Resendiz has said he used the term “cuca” as short for the Spanish “cucaracha,” or cockroach. He said he had never heard of the term used in the obscene sense that Salinas described.

In Gonzalez’ complaint, she describes an incident on Jan. 24, 2020, at Mechanics Bank on Airline Highway in which Resendiz video recorded Gonzalez and her daughter “while making jeering and threatening statements and motions, including misrepresentations about my assaulting or threatening him when requesting that he stop his own behavior…which put me in distress and concern for my safety.”

Resendiz said this week, “We’re going to go after them” if Gonzalez and Salinas attempt to keep the lawsuit alive. “This is my life, my family’s life, and they are constantly badgering, stalking, harassing us. It’s not going to be tolerated anymore.”