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City of Alameda SLAPPs Down Suit by Former Fire Chief

Vintage sign captured in Park Street store front. (File Photo)

Vintage sign captured in Park Street store front. (File Photo)

The City of Alameda announced today that it has won, using a free speech legal strategy, in the lawsuit filed against it by former Alameda Fire Chief David Kapler.

As in a similar lawsuit filed against the City of Alameda by former Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, attorneys for the City of Alameda moved to dismiss Kapler’s lawsuit under California Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statutes, asserting that the City’s decision to fire Kapler was protected free speech in a public forum.

The use of this free speech legislation, originally intended to protect citizens who speak out against corporations and developers, to strike down wrongful termination lawsuits may surprise some.

However, in August, regarding the Gallant lawsuit, attorney James Moneer, of San Diego, a SLAPP law specialist, told Action Alameda News, “the anti-SLAPP statute has long ago expanded well beyond its paradigmatic origins and has been applied to just about every cause of action imaginable so long as the substance of the claim fits into one or more of the four categories of protected speech enumerated in California Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16, subd. (e).”

Kapler was fired in 2010, after union firefighters, who were unhappy with the direction he was taking the department, went public with pictures of him filling up his personal car with city-bought gasoline at Fire Station #1. He claimed that his contract with the City of Alameda permitted him to do so.

After his termination, he filed a claim against the City of Alameda, and then in early 2011, he filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the City of Alameda, claiming $4 million in damages.

Kapler also claimed that his termination arose from his activities in negotiations with the firefighters union, IAFF Local 689, and that Councilmember Lena Tam conspired with the firefighters union to force his ouster. Kapler named Lena Tam in his suit, as well as Gallant, and the prior City Manager, Debra Kurita.

Also, in early 2011, Action Alameda News published a series of photographs taken from election night, November 2nd, 2010, showing IAFF Local 689 union leadership and members celebrating the re-election of Lena Tam to Alameda City Council, and the election of Marie Gilmore to Mayor of Alameda. Then Councilmember-elect, now California State Assembly District 18 representative, Rob Bonta, was there that night as well.

Regarding the closure of the case, Mayor Gilmore, in a statement released to the media today, said, “Alameda taxpayers and the City have been vindicated by this substantial final judgment for over $260,000 against Kapler for his unsuccessful attempt to shake down and intimidate the City.”

The City’s novel use of the SLAPP legislation turns the tables on Kapler, who is now on the hook for almost $261,000 in legal fees that the City of Alameda incurred.

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