The City of Manhattan Beach is coming out swinging in its battle to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by former City Manager Geoff Dolan.
At a hearing scheduled for March 6, the city will ask the trial court to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the actions Dolan claims violated the terms of a separation agreement he had with the city are protected speech under California’s anti-SLAPP law, according to current City Manager Dave Carmany.
Dolan claims that the city breached the separation contract and invaded his privacy when they released public records in response to a request from well-known open government advocate Richard McKee and disclosed information during the course of litigation subsequently filed by McKee, said Carmany.
According to The First Amendment Project, a nonprofit, public interest law firm and advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition, activity which is protected under the Anti-SLAPP law includes:
- any written or oral statement or writing made before a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or any other official proceeding authorized by law;
- any written or oral statement or writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other official proceeding authorized by law; or
- any written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.
Dolan's allegations stem from his Dec. 2009 resignation after being employed by the city for 15 years. His publicly unanticipated resignation was "met with surprise, questions and attention from both the media and public," according to a city press release. Subsequently, various organizations and individuals asked the city to release records concerning his resignation under the California Public Records Act.
“Certainly, this matter has not been enjoyable for any party involved, however, we must reiterate that a privacy claim by a public official concerning matters of public interest does not outweigh the public’s right to transparency,” said Carmany, who became city manager in Jan. 2011, replacing Richard Thompson, community development director, who had served as interim city manager after Dolan's resignation.
City Attorney Roxanne Diaz believes the city acted appropriately in releasing the records and information. “We’re committed to being transparent to the public and by filing the anti-SLAPP motion, we are defending that position in court. Transparency and integrity help ensure the quality of the officials in our city government.”
The city is being represented by Don Samuels and David Greene in the Dolan matter. The two attorneys are seasoned litigators with Bryan Cave, a leading litigation firm with expertise in First Amendment matters, according to Carmany. Greene is the former executive director of the First Amendment Project, a nonprofit organization that provides legal advice and representation in matters concerning the Public Records Act, open government and the defense of lawsuits against people for speaking out on matters of public interest.