To defame former Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva – to sully his good name by the legal standard – would seem a tall order, given Silva’s notoriously checkered reputation.
But Silva says a Stockton Unified trustee, AngelAnn Flores, defamed him at a March 2021 school board meeting when she called him a “child molester,” a “pedophile” and a “thief.”
He is suing Flores, Stockton Unified, and others yet to be named, for defamation. He seeks over $3 million in damages.
“… Plaintiff has suffered loss of his reputation, shame, horror, mortification, and injury to his feelings,” reads the Complaint for Damages filed in Superior Court.
Silva’s complaint further claims that Flores’ insults caused him such “irreputable (sic) damages … personally, emotionally, physically and financially” that he needed medical care.
Does Silva have a legitimate case? Can a checkered character still be defamed?
Add more fuel to the dumpster fire that is Stockton Unified. A recent Grand Jury report said bumbling leaders are spending the district toward insolvency. The report strongly hinted at corruption.
Its many areas of concern included “board conduct,” from bickering to possible back-room dealing. Also failure to follow parliamentary procedure, an issue in Silva’s suit.
The complaint contends that both board President Cecilia Mendez and then-district Superintendent John Ramirez Jr., who were both present, are also culpable. They had a duty to stop Flores but did not, it says.
Both officials had microphone mute buttons; neither muted Flores, the complaint says. Neither admonished Flores. Neither said her views were not those of the district.
“Rather, by allowing Flores the continuing forum … both the board and SUSD ratified the conduct of Flores and her statements …”
Stating the obvious, the complaint adds, “Thief” “… imputes to the Plaintiff dishonesty and lack of ethics as a businessman.”
As for the other put-downs: “The statement that Plaintiff is a “child molester and pedophile” is the most vilest (sic) of accusations … and imputes to the Plaintiff a lack of chastity of the worst kind and violated his right to enjoy a reputation of sexual restraint.”
Matthew Reynolds, dean of Humphreys University Drivon School of Law, said Silva’s case hinges on whether Flores’ statements are justified. “Basically, whether it’s testable — is this statement true or is it not true?” Reynolds said.
When “testing” truth in court, the defense can bring up Silva’s past.
Silva’s past, a gold mine for the scandalmonger, includes investigations and/or charges by federal authorities, the San Joaquin County District Attorney, the Amador County District Attorney, the San Joaquin County Grand Jury, even the Boys & Girls Club of America, which sent an investigator to Stockton.
Although Silva, or his lawyer, has a knack for getting charges dismissed, Silva does have a criminal record.
- In October 2021, he pleaded guilty to one felony charge of conflict of interest for using the office of mayor to funnel city tax dollars to the (renamed) Stockton Kids Club. His sentence included 90 days in jail or time in an alternative work program, $19,783 in restitution, and three years’ probation. He is still on probation.
- After his infamous “strip poker” arrest, he pleaded down a set of felony charges to one misdemeanor count. He was ordered to perform 40 hours of community service.
In addition, Silva’s reputation may also include the crimes he was initially charged with, usually reported in headlines (“Silva out on bail, vows to fight charges”), and his non-criminal scandals as mayor, as well as those before he was mayor and any new information that may come to light.
Here, for the record, are his Greatest Hits.
A few examples: A gun he owned was used to kill a 13-year-old; he illegally recorded a strip poker game with youths after providing them with alcohol; the national Boys & Girls Club yanked the Stockton chapter’s charter while he was CEO over concerns he was defrauding the organization.
All made for news stories blasted by media from Sacramento TV stations to the Los Angeles Times and beyond. Californians literally read about this guy’s misadventures in Pacoima.
Much of his wrecking-ball tenure is preserved on Wikipedia, Ballotpedia, online news archives, and a thousand other Google hits.
And then there is the gossip — Silva’s reputation in practice — etched in acid on blogs and social media, some of which makes Flores’ statements look as charitable as Mother Teresa.
On the other hand, Silva has followers, too. Supporters who believe he cared about them as mayor though establishment elites did not. There are redoubts where his reputation is good.
And the fact is, Silva has never been convicted of pedophilia or molestation. And he is (as the complaint says )…“a businessman who runs multiple nonprofit organization (sic) and businesses, some of which involve providing services to children.” Consequently, his reputation, or what is left of it, matters.
If the case goes to trial, therefore, a key issue (besides the truth of Flores’ statements), will be whether Silva’s reputation is so tarnished that it’s even possible to defame him.
It is, said Dean Reynolds, but there’s a catch.
“If somebody already has a poor reputation … particularly in the area where the statement was made, then it will be harder to show damages, or as significant amount of damages,” Reynolds said. “If you say something that a lot of people already think, the damages are going to be less, or possibly none.”
“If what he was convicted of is close enough to being a thief, it’s true, and there is no liability for telling the truth about a person,” Reynolds said, adding, “Presumably his felony has already made it difficult for him to be (seen as) an honest businessman.”
Reynolds was dubious about the complaint’s finger-pointing at the board chair and superintendent because they didn’t gong Flores by cutting her mic.
“It does seem like a legal stretch to me,” Reynolds said. “Public action is usually an affirmative action. In this case … it’s a failure to do something.”
We may see these issues play out in court.
Or not. It seems unlikely Silva would allow the defense to dredge up all his skeletons at trial. His goal may be to silence Flores, his most outspoken board critic, or he may be gunning for a settlement.
Insiders say Silva, a former SUSD ed board chair himself, was instrumental in recruiting a majority of current board members. Silva may calculate the board will rubber stamp a settlement.
If so, that would feel more like a scam than a just outcome.
Anthony Silva declined to comment for this story. Calls to his attorney, Mark Thiel, went unanswered. Stockton Unified also declined to comment.
The irony is that AngelAnn Flores is widely seen as an honest trustee. The one not there for power, profit, or ego. The one who fights for the students.
We’ll see who the board fights for. It is scheduled to review Silva’s claim in closed session on Aug. 24.
Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.