An Orange County attorney has filed a legal claim with the county alleging defamation by former prosecutor Gary Logalbo, who was accused of referring to the Muslim lawyer as a “terrorist,” according to records obtained Monday.
The attorney was anonymous in the legal claim, which is a required precursor to a lawsuit against a government agency, but in a previous claim with the county last month the attorney was identified as Mohammad Abuershaid, a former Orange County deputy public defender who is now in private practice in Orange.
Matt Murphy, the attorney who filed the claim March 9 against the county, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Logalbo, accused Spitzer of leaking Abuershaid’s name in an attempt to get a jump on defending the allegations, but Abuershaid’s name was not redacted in the sexual harassment claims filed by four prosecutors last month.
Logalbo, who was best man at Spitzer’s wedding, has also been accused of sexual harassment by the prosecutor.
Logalbo, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, was leading a meeting with prosecutors in the North Justice Center in Fullerton in September 2019 when a case being handled by Abuershaid came up.
“When Mr. Logalbo could not immediately recall John Doe’s name, he stated to the group, `You know… the terrorist,’ ” according to the claim.
A prosecutor asked Logalbo if he meant to refer to Abuershaid as a terrorist, Logalbo responded, “Yes, him,” according to the claim.
Logalbo “appeared to have labeled (the attorney) `a terrorist’ for no apparent reason other than his Islamic name,” according to the claim.
One of the women alleging sexual harassment in a separate claim, who is also Muslim, was at the meeting and “felt very uncomfortable,” according to Murphy’s claim.
“As outlined in her claim, Mr. Logalbo had made similar statements about her father,” Murphy said in the claim.
The next day, Logalbo again referred to Abuershaid as a “terrorist,” and a prosecutor, who was apparently trying to give the boss the benefit of the doubt, asked him if he was using the term “because he was a Muslim, or because he represented a peripheral (and innocent) family member during the FBI investigation into the San Bernardino Shooters, Syed Farooq and Tashfeen Malik, Mr. Logalbo responded, `I didn’t even know he did that,’ ” the claim alleges.
Murphy argued that the attorney’s name should have been redacted in the sexual harassment claim and accused Spitzer of releasing “this information to the public.”
Murphy said a redaction of the attorney’s name “could have protected (the lawyer) from public derision, suspicion, or ridicule. Plainly, the district attorney released this information in an attempt to control the public narrative of this case. By leaking the story in as favorable a light as possible, Mr. Spitzer clearly hoped to blunt some of the explosiveness of this evidence should the full story become known to the public.”
The attorney grew up in Southern California and was a “varsity letterman in multiple sports in high school, and attended both college and law school in the United States,” Murphy wrote in the claim.
“Despite this, every time a potential client does research into (the attorney’s) professional experience, they will now learn that a supervisor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office repeatedly referred to him as a `terrorist,’ ” the claim alleges.
“This was unnecessary, fundamentally unfair, and (the attorney) will be forced to deal with these false and defamatory statements for as long as the internet exists.”
Murphy also noted comments Spitzer made during a speech before the Iranian American Bar Association in November 2019.
“As Mr. Spitzer instructed this group of attorneys to `look in the mirror’ to understand why they are targets of racism, however, he had literally just promoted Gary Logalbo to the rank of assistant district attorney and put him in charge of the District Attorney’s Office in North Justice Center,” Murphy wrote in the claim.
Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, said Spitzer “was honored to have been chosen as the keynote speaker for the 2019 Iranian American Bar Association’s Sixth Annual National Conference as a result of his support for the Iranian American community and his dedication to aggressively prosecuting hate crimes. He received a standing ovation following his speech.”
Edds added that “Spitzer has prosecuted nearly twice as many hate crimes in the last two years compared to the prior 25 years. District Attorney Spitzer has made it clear that hate has no place here in Orange County and it has no place anywhere. The district attorney had absolutely no knowledge of any comment disparaging someone’s national identify and such comments run completely contrary to his values, beliefs, and decades of advocating for victims of hate crimes.”
Peter Hardin, a former state and federal prosecutor, who was poised to announce his candidacy for district attorney on Tuesday, said the legal claim is the most recent in a “sea of scandals in which the District Attorney’s Office is rudderless.
“This DA sheltered and promoted his best friend, the best man at his wedding, a man known for his harassing behavior and unconscionable remarks,” Hardin said.
“And when these allegations came to light, how did this DA handle it? He let his best friend quietly retire, with taxpayer-paid, top-flight benefits, I might add. ”
Hardin said the “endless lawsuits and scandals are costing us millions of our taxpayer dollars. It’s also costing us morally and socially, damaging the credibility of the office with the public, the courts, and dedicated line prosecutors — among whom morale is devastated.
“I have listed to and heard this community — they want and deserve better,” Hardin said. “Orange County needs a new day and a new direction. I’m running for district attorney to bring justice with integrity, accountability, and transparency to an office and a county that desperately need it.”