A pony ride protester’s attempt to get a lawsuit against her thrown out had mixed results.
Two of the four charges brought against Marcy Winograd — relating to her fight to get pony rides ousted from the Farmers’ Market — were dismissed by a judge last week.
The other two stand — a decision that Winograd plans to appeal.
In April, Winograd began a push against Tawni’s Ponies, which has provided pony rides at the Main Street Farmers’ Market since 2003.
In September, after months of protest, City Council voted 4-0 to seek a non-animal-related vendor for the Farmers’ Market plot currently occupied by Tawni’s Ponies. This will happen after the business’ contract with City Hall expires in May. The decision will likely spell the end of pony rides and petting zoos at the Main Street market.
In November, Tawni’s Ponies and its owners, including Tawni Angel and her husband Jason Nester, sued Winograd and other protesters, claiming libel, infliction of emotional distress and interference with possible economic advantage.
Winograd promptly filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion in response. Anti-SLAPP motions are meant to protect defendants against lawsuits that would censor their criticisms.
Arguments were heard earlier this month.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart-Cole decided that two claims — libel per se and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage — were sufficient enough to be heard in court.
Hart-Cole said that Angel and Nester had alleged “clear statements of provably false facts” and provided “evidence establishing actual malice based on Winograd’s knowledge that animal control officers found no signs of abuse, neglect or mistreatment” before making statements about animal mistreatment online and to the press.
Winograd’s argument for the ousting of the ponies from the Farmers’ Market was based on the belief that the animals were being treated inhumanely. She said that the animals were uncomfortable, being forced to sit out in the hot sun, and had cracked hooves. She said that the length of the ropes were too short. All of this, she said, teaches¬†kids that mistreatment of animals is acceptable.
The lawsuit alleges that Winograd repeatedly made these accusations despite numerous assurances from city and police officials that no abuse was occurring.
Angel and Nester claim that their ponies did not have cracked hooves and present, as evidence, a letter from Santa Monica Police Department Sgt. Mike Graham, a horse owner who wrote that the ponies were “well-cared for, and in good condition.”
“The judge got it right,” Angel’s attorney Don Chomiak said in a statement. “The evidence is clear that Ms. Winograd was put on notice by a city official on May 9, 2014 that the Santa Monica Police Department’s Animal Control Unit had investigated Tawnis Ponies at the Farmer’s Market on May 4, 2014 and found that the animals were healthy, well-watered and in comfortable conditions.”
The other two claims — intentional infliction of emotional distress and a request for prior restraint — were tossed and Winograd says she is therefore entitled to “thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.”
As for the other two claims, Winograd says she’s filed a notice of appeal of the lower court’s anti-SLAPP decision.
“If this denial of First Amendment rights was applied to historical events and our citizenry not allowed to challenge the word of a person with a title or uniform, we would never have outlawed or ended human slavery, denial of voting rights to women and people of color, sweatshops, and child labor,” she said in a statement to the Daily Press. “In fact, that’s how change happens — by challenging entrenched beliefs and institutions that belie our humanity.”
Among the speech that Winograd is defending are emails she sent to city officials (and this newspaper) criticizing Nester and Angel for making posts on Facebook, drinking alcohol in the morning, and using guns.
The emails include screenshots of a post Nester made on Facebook that opposed President Barack Obama and open borders. One post depicts him and Angel at firing range. Another of the photos shows Angel holding a bottle of vodka while on a ski trip. One of Nester’s photos, depicting three women, is captioned “My bitches !!!”
“While we value freedom of speech, these screen shots of rifles, Tawni at the firing range, and racially-tainted and sexist references featured on the Main Street farmers market pony and petting zoo operator’s Facebook page does make one pause and wonder if it’s in the best interest of the city of Santa Monica to embrace and promote this business,” Winograd said in the email sent in May.
The lawsuit alleges that, with their exit from the Farmers’ Market in May, Tawni’s Ponies will lose about $75,000 worth of business.
Additionally, the suit alleges, they’ll lose new pony ride and petting zoo business given the “false accusations of animal abuse” that were published.