Lawsuit alleges defamation of Solana Beach officials

A current and former member of the Solana Beach City Council have filed a lawsuit against an unsuccessful candidate in the 2016 City Council election, alleging that he and others published defamatory information about them in a letter to another local newspaper, emails and social media posts.

The lawsuit filed in May (and amended in October) by Councilman Mike Nichols and former Councilwoman Lesa Heebner alleges defamation by council candidate Ed Siegel, a well-known figure in Solana Beach who leads weekly sing-along events, and four other defendants. The lawsuit also alleges invasion of privacy by all five defendants. Siegel came in last in a field of six candidates in the November 2016 election.

The lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court by attorney Keith Rutman on behalf of Nichols and Heebner, seeks a minimum of $15 million in damages. If the case goes to trial and the plaintiffs prevail, a jury would determine the amount of damages, if any, are awarded.

Named in the lawsuit along with Siegel as defendants were Andrew P. Jones, Mary Jane Boyd, Sandy Parrish and Brian Hall. The lawsuit alleges Boyd and Parrish re-published some of the defamatory information listed in the legal action.

Both Heebner and Nichols declined to comment, referring questions to their attorney, Rutman, who said the alleged defamation by the defendants went beyond typical political mud-slinging.

"When specific allegations are made they need to be addressed and this is the way to do it," Rutman said.

The lawsuit alleges Siegel spread untrue, defamatory information about Nichols and Heebner in an Oct. 28, 2016 letter to the editor of The Coast News. The letter was titled, "Shady business on the Solana Beach train tracks," and accused Nichols and Heebner of potentially profiting through contracts related to the redevelopment of the Solana Beach train station, according to the lawsuit.

The letter was sent under Siegel's name and also alleged that the selection of a proposed developer for the project was made through a "back-door deal."

Similar allegations and additional charges regarding Nichols and Heebner were made in a series of emails sent to elected officials and members of the media, and in social media posts, according to the lawsuit. The emails and posts were sent by Andrew Jones, who wrote in an email to the city clerk that he was Siegel's campaign manager, said the lawsuit.

However, both Siegel and Hall, when contacted, said Hall was Siegel's campaign manager. Rutman said his staff has not been able to locate Jones.

Regarding the lawsuit, Siegel said, "It's totally without merit." Siegel, a psychiatrist and co-author of the official Solana Beach song "Solana Beach, Our City Proud," made his first run for elective office in 2016.

Hall, who runs a Solana Beach real estate company, said of the lawsuit, "They're trying to shut us up."

Boyd declined to comment on the lawsuit and Parrish did not respond by presstime to a request for comment.

One of the emails sent by Andrew Jones contained allegations about the train station project similar to those in the letter to the editor. Another email by Jones alleged improprieties by Joseph Balla, who was part of a bid for the train station project that received the highest ranking of four proposals submitted to the North County Transit District, which owns the train station property. Balla has also filed a defamation lawsuit against the same defendants named in Heebner and Nichols' lawsuit.

Rutman said that once served, those named in his clients' defamation lawsuit have 30 days to respond to the legal action.

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