One week after his political opponent filed a temporary restraining order against him alleging defamation, Place 5 San Juan City Commissioner Pete Garcia filed a response roundly denying the allegations and seeking the judge’s dismissal of the case.
“We’re looking forward to going to court as soon as possible because we want to make sure that everyone gets both sides of the story,” Garcia’s attorney, Jesus Villalobos said shortly after filing his client’s response to the TRO last Tuesday afternoon.
“Right now, I think it’s been very biased in one direction.”
State District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna granted the TRO two weeks ago, after Garcia’s opponent, Marco “Markie” Villegas, alleged Garcia had been spreading defamatory statements about him with the intent to affect the outcome of the June 8 runoff election.
Villegas alleged that Garcia published a flyer, both online and in print, which he knew contained false information about him. The flyer bears a photograph of Villegas and lists nearly a dozen crimes ranging from theft and DUI, to engaging in organized crime and more. Above the list of crimes, which span nearly two decades, the flyer reads, “Is this Markie Villegas?”
Although the TRO required the flyer be removed from social media, it was still visible on a Facebook page associated with Garcia’s campaign last Tuesday.
Villalobos said that was because his client had only recently received legal advice after being served the restraining order. “Whatever the judge said, we’ll comply with that,” Villalobos said.
In the response, Villalobos argued that Villegas’ allegations do not satisfy legal requirements for a defamation suit, primarily because Villegas failed to notify Garcia of his complaint in writing. Nor did Villegas “make request for correction, clarification, or retraction that is stated with particularity as to each individual statement,” the response reads.
“The reason that you need it in writing and you want to follow what the law specifically provides is that so there isn’t any type of confusion,” Villalobos said.
In turn, Villegas’ attorney, Javier Peña, argued that Garcia was properly notified and asked to remove the posts from social media, but that such requests had been deleted.
Villalobos’ response also argued that Garcia’s actions are protected because he “acted in good faith, honestly, and without malice,” and that he merely posed a question.
“There has never been an actual assertion made saying that this in fact happened. It’s simply, like, is this him? It’s a question,” Villalobos said.
Peña scoffed at the idea that the question posed in the flyer — “Is this Markie Villegas?” — was asked without an intent to do harm.
“And his weak attempt, you know, of framing it as a question doesn’t get him out of trouble,” Peña said.
Villegas emerged victorious in Saturday’s runoff, defeating Garcia by just over 10 percentage points, 1,556 votes to 1,267.
The two sides were slated to meet in court Monday where the judge was to decide whether to grant an injunction.