Appellate Court rules courageous #MeToo silence-breaker was entitled to speak out


The California Court of Appeals ruled that a woman who accused a former member of the California Assembly of sexual assault was protected by the law when she chose to speak out at a press conference after reporting the assault to the legislature. This means that former Assemblymember Matthew Dabbaneh’s lawsuit against her for defamation was thrown out of court. In holding that the fair report privilege applies in the case of Dababneh v. Lopez, the court’s ruling protects survivors who report assaults perpetrated by government officials. 

In 2017, lobbyist Pam Lopez provided testimony to the California Assembly about Matt Dababneh sexually assaulting her in 2016. She then spoke at a press conference about the information she had provided to the Assembly. Dababneh sued Lopez for defamation based on her testimony to the California legislature and statements she made at a press conference. The case is one of the many examples where alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct use the law to try to sue survivors into silence. The court’s decision today that the fair report privilege applies to Lopez’s remarks to the press, makes clear that survivors who speak to the press about misconduct they have reported have the right to be heard without the threat of being sued by the accused perpetrator of their assault. In ruling in Lopez’ favor, the Court of Appeals instructed the lower court to grant Lopez’ motion to dismiss the case in its entirety and to cover Lopez’ attorney’s fees for having to mount a defense.

Pam Lopez has stated that the “ruling reinforces that we will not be silent. As we have learned since 2017, this abuse occurs in every institution where men wield power. When you look at me, know that there are thousands of other survivors who want to speak out.” Since first speaking out, Lopez has founded Work Equity, a peer network to support survivors to fight against sexual harassment and assault.  

Ms. Lopez was represented by Jean Hyams while a partner at Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP. At the time the appellate ruling came down, Jean noted “The court’s decision is a victory for a courageous survivor who came forward and reported an assault by a powerful government official. When Ms. Lopez came forward years ago, it took courage for her to tell her story and seek justice. Today, the court has sent a message that survivors have a right to report what happened to them to the institutions charged with protecting against abuse, and to report through the press what they have done so the powerful can be held accountable. Survivors need to be able to use their voice to change institutions that have too long protected the powerful and to speak out about abuse, regardless of the title or position of their accuser or legal maneuvering they attempt to use to stop justice.” 

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