On to the California Court of Appeal, where First Amendment attorney Mark Goldowitz will represent me in Angel and Nester vs. Winograd – or carousel pony ride operators vs. animal rights activist.
Last November, I learned through a reporter’s email containing a press release that animal-for-profit vendors Tawni Angel and Jason Nester of Tawni's Ponies and Animal World Petting Farm had filed a defamation lawsuit against me for my petition campaign to end animal cruelty at the Main Street Farmers Market in Santa Monica. To read and sign the petition, click on http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/shut-down-pony-rides
I and 2,000 other petition signers object to the cramped petting zoo and pony ride in which ponies are tethered to metal bars and forced to circle barefoot in one direction on concrete for almost four hours each Sunday. Among the petition signers are actors Martin Sheen and Mimi Kennedy, as well as Academy Award winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who lives in Santa Monica and said of the tethered ponies, "It does not look like a pretty picture to me."
I am honored to have Mark Goldowitz, the man who helped write the anti-SLAPP law, represent me in the Court of Appeal in an effort to protect the rights of citizens to speak out and voice opinions – whether the issue be animal cruelty, development, or oil drilling.
Goldowitz is the founder and Director of the California Anti-SLAPP Project (CASP), which led the successful campaign to enact the California law that protects against SLAPPS or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation designed to chill debate and silence dissent.
"We're confident the Court will recognize this lawsuit for what it is -- an attempt to muzzle activists by undermining constitutional rights," said Goldowitz, who added, “A victory in this case could set a precedent for free speech and the right to petition legislative bodies in the Internet Age.”
Angel and Nester filed their lawsuit two months after the Santa Monica City Council voted to give preference to non-animal exhibits when the vendors’ contract expires in May. The farmers market managers were slated to begin in January implementing a pilot program with alternative children’s activities – but the program has yet to materialize.
In January, a lower court dismissed Angel and Nester’s entire case against my co-defendant, local Santa Monica resident Danielle Charney, and dismissed half of the case against me -- throwing out a request for prior restraint, an injunction on speech the US government fortunately could not obtain against heroic Daniel Ellsberg and the New York Times to stop them from publishing the Pentagon Papers.
Goldowitz is a 1972 graduate of Harvard Law School and a member of the California Bar. Nine of the SLAPPS in which he prevailed are published appellate opinions, including the first anti-SLAPP opinion by the California Supreme Court.
Goldowitz expects the appeal process to take approximately a year before judges rule on whether the remaining claims against me should be dismissed on First Amendment and related grounds.
Goldowitz said, “I would hope the Courts would affirm the importance of the right to petition the government, not only for dissenters but also lawmakers who depend on robust public debate to make informed government decisions. The right to petition is, after all, the lifeblood of democracy.”
To see a Free the Pony You Tube video, click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWszx6jP3Fw
To learn more about the legal case -- read the complaint, briefs and declarations -- visit LA Progressive. http://www.laprogressive.com/pony-rides-dispute/
To read about the California Anti-SLAPP Project, click on www.casp.net
Each Sunday 4-6 ponies are tethered to metal bars at the Main Street Farmers Market in Santa Monica.
In 2005, other animal rights activists protested the pony ride and said they collected an estimated 1,000 signatures on their petition to free the ponies. The lead organizer said he was arrested while distributing flyers in front of the farmers market, conducted a hunger strike in jail, and was soon released.
This alpaca is often tightly penned with a zebu or goat at the Main Street Farmers Market. After taking the photograph last spring, I blogged the alpaca had collapsed in the heat. The vendors said she was just sunbathing.
On September 9, 2014, the Santa Monica City Council voted to give preference to non-animal vendors when the current operators' contract expires in May. Angel and I both thanked the Council for staying late into the night and early morning to listen to dozens of people who had waited hours to testify.