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Santa Monica Pony Rides Lawsuit Decision Reversed on Appeal
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 11, 2016 -- In what Santa Monica resident Marcy Winograd called a victory for citizen activism, a California Court of Appeal panel ruled this week that the owner of a company providing pony rides could not sue Winograd for defamation because she is protected by free speech laws.

The ruling overturns a trial court decision from last year. Tawni Angel of Tawni’s Ponies and Petting Farm must pay Winograd’s attorney fees. The decision can be appealed further.

“This is great news for citizen activism, for the ruling affirms the right of ordinary people to petition their local government for legislative change,” Winograd told The Lookout.

She continued, “I'm thankful the Court did not allow this chilling lawsuit to go forward because lawsuits like this one can censor debate not just about animal cruelty but about anything controversial in the community -- such as development and land use.”

Angel told the Lookout she had to speak with her husband and attorney before deciding on whether to pursue further appeals.

“She has harmed my life for no reason at all,” Angel said. “I have been wrapped in a battle with Marcy in which she has been harassing me for several years, and it’s just been me trying to defend myself.

"I believe in what I do and I know I treat my animals well and bring a lot of happiness to a lot of families.”

Winograd led a campaign against the pony rides at the Main Street Farmers Market, saying the animals were being abused.

Among the people Winograd persuaded in her campaign were members of the Santa Monica City Council, who ended pony rides at the market in 2014 (“Pony Rides to be Replaced at Santa Monica Farmers Market,” September 11, 2014).

Angel and her husband Jason Nester filed a lawsuit against Winograd and 20 unnamed defendants later that year, accusing them of “intentional interference with prospective economic advantage” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Winograd responded with an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) motion, which is used by activists who believe they are being sued to silence them (“Santa Monica Pony Ride Owners Sue Protesters,” November 12, 2014).

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart-Cole ruled in January 2015 that Winograd was not protected against a lawsuit (“Owner of Santa Monica Pony Rides Scores Legal Victory,” January 28, 2015).

The three-judge panel from the Second Appellate District determined in overturning the ruling that Winograd was protected because of “legislative privilege,” meaning the statements she made were allowed because they were in pursuit of getting the Santa Monica City Council to ban pony rides.

“The statements in these articles, post, and television interview relate to the supposed poor treatment the pony ride and petting zoo animals received, and either directly or inferentially solicited public support for defendant’s petition to cause the City of Santa Monica to take action to end the pony ride and petting zoo,” Judge Sanjay Kumar wrote in the opinion.

The opinion, signed by Judges Lamar Baker and Paul Turner, continued, “Accordingly, they fell within the broad construction of the legislative privilege.”

Angel has rejected Winograd’s claim that her ponies are abused and said she has lost a substantial amount of business because of Winograd's actions since she no longer picks up clients for children’s parties and other activities through meeting people at the market.

“The amount of stress she’s put on my life is tremendous,” Angel said. “I have been lucky to be able to stay in business.”

She added, “Marcy did this because she said she wanted to save my animals, but we’re having to work 10 times harder just to make a portion of the money we made before so that we can feed them and maintain the level of care for our animals that they need.”

The Lookout asked Winograd about this statement, and she said Angel was entitled to her opinion, but “she felt she had to try to chill and stifle my opinions.”

“It is regrettable that Ms. Angel and Mr. Nestor chose to file a SLAPP suit, which may ultimately cost them a lot of money,” Winograd said. “The decision to sue was theirs and I can only assume someone with legal expertise informed them of the possible adverse consequences.”

She added, “My objective was to end the animal exhibits because I thought they were cruel, not to personally harm anyone. Ms. Angel and Mr. Nestor's lawsuit was less than pleasant for me, my family and friends, and certainly inflicted harm on me and my loved ones.”

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