Bullard football Coach Donny Arax’s defamation suit against Fresno Unified Trustee Keshia Thomas and the school district may continue, although a portion of the suit has been dismissed, Fresno Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan ruled last week.
Thomas and the district had attempted to have the entire lawsuit thrown out through anti-SLAPP motions. So-called SLAPP lawsuits — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — are those that are brought in an effort to intimidate a person or business into silence.
Thomas and the district had contended that Arax’s defamation lawsuit was an effort to silence public discussion about the issue of racism in connection with the northwest Fresno high school.
Arax’s suit stemmed from allegations Thomas made on “Unfiltered,” the public affairs program hosted by GV Wire publisher Darius Assemi that’s live-streamed on Facebook, that Arax had used racial slurs in front of her son during a football practice.
The show’s focus was racism in the Fresno Unified School District and a social media post in which a Bullard student was wearing a head covering that resembled a Ku Klux Klan hood. The post sparked outrage, student walkouts and marches, and pressure on the school district to expel the students involved.
On the show, Thomas said her son, now 23, “goes to football practice where he has Arax calling him a (N-word), and he decides he’s not playing for Bullard anymore.”
Partial Victory for anti-SLAPP Motions
Kapetan ruled that the portion of Arax’s suit based on Thomas’ comments in a May 20 story in GV Wire in which she responded to Arax calling her a “liar” would be struck from the suit because there was no proof her comments were false.
However, Kapetan allowed the lawsuit to continue based on Thomas’ original comments on “Unfiltered” and reports of those comments in GV Wire stories.
In addition, Kapetan denied the defendants’ motion for attorney’s fees for the portion of the lawsuit struck as a result of the anti-SLAPP motion.
“The court is mindful that fees awarded to a defendant who was only partially successful on an anti-SLAPP motion should be commensurate with the extent to which the motion changed the nature and character of the lawsuit in a practical way. … Since there was no significant, practical change, fees will not be awarded,” the judge ruled.