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Decision 2010: Alameda’s Measure E prompts court case of sorts

Submitted by on 1, June 15, 2010 – 4:50 am11 Comments

The contest over the Measure E parcel tax hasn’t been decided yet, but it’s already set to head to court: An opponent of the tax is asking for a protective order against a proponent who approached him at a League of Women Voters forum over an anti-E video.

The court denied David Howard’s request for a temporary restraining order against Mark Irons on Friday, but a hearing in the case has been set for June 25. (Full disclosure: I was sitting behind Howard at the forum when the exchange took place, and I’m named in his filing as someone who may have witnessed it.)

Howard made a video for the Committee Against Measure E featuring Irons and others which, some feel, implies that supporters of the tax are racist. Howard, who unsuccessfully sued local blogger and political activist John Knox White for defamation in 2007, also created a Google map that plots the approximate addresses and links of supporters of the tax and others.

Irons approached Howard during a break in Thursday’s forum at Mastick Senior Center, and the conversation, court paperwork says, went like this:

Irons: Do you want to call me a racist to my face?

Howard: Mark, please don’t talk to me.

Irons: Do you want to call me a racist to my face?

Howard: Mark, please get away from me. Don’t talk to me, don’t come near me. Go away, or I will call the police.

Irons: You’d better be careful what you insinuate about me.

Howard wrote that he interpreted Irons’ last statement “as a thinly veiled threat of violence. His manner – standing over me as I sat in my chair, approaching me unsolicited and unprovoked as he did – was intimidating.”

“I was left shaken by the exchange, and I feared for my safety as I walked home from the Mastick Center,” Howard continued. He wrote that he drove to the Alameda Police Department after he got home to report what happened.

In describing how he knows Irons, Howard wrote that he and Irons “participate vigorously in local community and political issues through letters-to-the-editor, online forums, City Council meetings, public forums and the like.”

“We frequently find ourselves on opposite sides of any given issue,” he wrote.

Irons, who hadn’t yet been served with documents related to the case when I called (Howard left a copy on my porch Friday), said he thought Howard should expect to be called out in public “because he has arrogantly sauntered around town, sticking video cameras in people’s faces while they attempted to address council and then used that footage to further smear and intimidate them with false accusations about their motives for supporting schools.”

Irons called Howard’s request for a stop-harassment order “a predictable and calculated overreaction to somebody simply asking him to be accountable in a public setting instead of letting him continue to hide behind his computer or charade as a media personality with his home video equipment.”

“I relish seeing him be humiliated in court for posing as the victim when that is anything but the actual case here,” Irons said.


  • David Howard says:

    Just to be clear. In Howard v. Knox White, the Court ruled that the plaintiff (me) proved a prima facie case of libel and dismissed the defendant’s anti-SLAPP counter-claim for damages and legal fees. Based on the claim documents submitted to the Court, I understand the case cost the defendent several thousand dollars.

    • Here’s the news article I drew on for further clarification:

      Use of word ‘stalker’ not defamatory, judge rules
      Contra Costa Times, 2007-08-14
      By Alan Lopez – STAFF WRITER

      One Alamedan calling another a “stalker” on a popular local Web log last November did not constitute defamation, an Alameda County small claims court judge has ruled.

      The ruling followed a small claims trial in April, in which resident David Howard accused city Transportation Commission Chairman John Knox White of defamation.

      In the nine-page judgment entered Aug. 8, temporary Superior Court Judge Andrew Dosa ruled that Knox White’s use of the word “stalker” may have been “off-color and disturbing” and “an overstatement and inaccurate or erroneous.

      “However, the use of the word was not intended to accuse plaintiff of criminal activity or to suggest he was involved in criminal activity. The court finds that a reasonable person reading the statements … would have understood them to be inflammatory but not be defamatory.”

      In March, Howard, the co-director of the local political action committee, Action Alameda, sued Knox White, accusing him of defamation and asking for $7,500 in damages, among other actions.

      The judgment notes that Howard failed to prove that the defendant had acted with malice, and therefore Knox White’s statement was not defamatory. But even if Howard could have proven that it was defamatory, Dosa noted that Howard was not able to prove that the defendant’s use of the word caused him damages.

      In response to the suit, Knox White unsuccessfully attempted to convince the judge to throw it out under California’s anti-SLAPP (strategic limitation on public participation) statute, which is intended to prevent lawsuits from being used to stifle public discourse.

      Knox White, who is an Alameda Journal columnist, said he was disappointed by the decision over his motion to strike the suit but otherwise felt “completely exonerated” by the judgment.

      “There’s nothing incredibly surprising about it,” he said Friday. “Not many people I’ve spoken to felt it rose to defamation and libel. It’s nice to have the courts back up what I said all along. It was a moment of childish name calling.”

      Reached by phone, Howard declined to comment on the case but later issued a statement on the case.

      “Mr. (Knox) White and friends have defended his behavior in the name of ‘free speech,’ yet their use of gang intimidation to marginalize anyone whom they don’t like betrays that spirit,” he said. “Alameda residents should be alarmed by this threat to genuine political dialogue within their town.”

  • Thanks Michele!

    For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, David Howard is just trying to make it sound like that the court supported him. The actual judgment read:

    “The court finds that a reasonable person reading the statements … would have understood them to be inflammatory but not be defamatory.””

    I have a feeling that on June 25th, the courts will again find that “a reasonable person” would have understood Mark Irons was only asking Howard to have the courage of his convictions and say to his face what he had been saying behind Mark’s back.

  • Blucky says:

    Why am I not surprised? Howard can talk all the BS he wants but when someone “calls him out” on his actions, he cowers into the court system hoping that someone, anyone will stand behind his false accusations. Sad that any tax-payer money is being wasted on his guy.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Having been a target of David Howard’s thinly-veiled personal attacks and innuendo myself, I understand how Mark Irons, John Knox White, and many others feel about Howard’s public comments, in which he seems to attack people personally more than he addresses substantive issues in a constructive manner.

    If Howard’s criticisms were true, based on the issues and not simply unfounded ad hominem attacks, or if they contributed to a more elevated discussion of the real issues in Alameda his behavior might not provoke such strong negative reactions.

    Although I was at Mastick that night, I missed the Irons-Howard encounter entirely, and I saw no commotion or actual threat of physical violence at any time. This suggests that there was nothing that Howard needed to be afraid of.

    Except perhaps for being challenged for his initial and uncalled-for behavior in making ungrounded or false claims.

  • Mark Irons says:

    just to be clear, my recollection is that I said “You should watch what you insinuate about me.” The difference in recollection may be nit picking, but I thought a long time about what I thought I said and my own speech patterns and frequent choice of words. I have a strong recollection of having said “watch what you insinuate”. I bring this up because even a small change in wording such as “you better be careful what you insinuate…” seems an attempt to insinuate the most threatening interpretation of the exchange.

    The final exchange was left out:
    Howard: “Mark, please leave me alone”
    Irons: “With pleasure”.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    While growing up and into adulthood I seem to recall hearing from many wise (adult) sources advice to this effect:

    “Never say anything about anyone that you would not be willing to say to their face.”

    Saying something harsh to someone directly takes courage, even if you DO have the truth on your side. And that alone is not always worth violating this chestnut:

    “If you cannot say something nice about someone, don’t say anything.”

    I appreciate Mark’s clarification of David Howard’s report.

    Which one should be considered the more credible source?

  • jeanne allen says:

    One thing the pro E people keep saying that is not true is that commercial property owners or landlords of residential property will get a reduction from 15 cents to 13 cents. Not true. Under Measure H the buildings sizes were taxed, under Measure E it will be the lot sizes. Big difference. Renters will be paying anywhere from $50+ per month down to $15 per month depending on the lot size of the buildings they live in. In this poor economy that is a lot to ask of renters and landlords.

    • Hi Jeanne,

      Like Measure E, Measure H also charges commercial property owners based on their lot size. The big difference with Measure E, structurally speaking, is that multi-unit buildings with five units or more will be taxed at the commercial rate. Under Measure H, they were taxed at the residential rate.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    yesterday the courts (once again) dismissed David Howard’s request for “protection” as unwarranted and unjustified. Unfortunately for Mark, the court did not award Irons any damages for attorney’s fees and legal costs.

    In court, David Howard apparently used Mark’s version of the conversation at Mastick instead of his own version. which was apparently not up to being challenged. Why, pray tell?

    Once again, David Howard has wasted taxpayers’ money after overstating the “risks” to his own personal safety at the hands of “bullies” like my teddy-bear friend Mark Irons.

  • anotherfrank says:

    So I wonder if any of you guys ‘have grown up to adulthood’ as of yet.

    Reading this makes me think you all need a ‘timeout’.

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