A judge has dismissed a former state assemblyman’s defamation claim against two sisters who are current members of the state Legislature — including one who is the plaintiff’s ex-wife — whom he alleged maligned his reputation while speaking out on domestic violence issues.
Pomona Superior Court Judge Peter A. Hernandez issued his ruling last week in the suit brought by ex-Assemblyman Roger Hernandez — who is unrelated to the judge — against the plaintiff’s ex-spouse, 51-year-old state Sen. Susan Rubio, and her 53-year-old sibling, Assemblywoman Blanca E. Rubio.
The Rubio sisters filed a motion under the state’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — law, which is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
The judge heard arguments on the motion on Sept. 7, then took the issues under submission before ruling on Thursday. In his opposition to the anti-SLAPP motion, Hernandez maintained in his court papers that the motion was “frivolous and nothing more than an attempt to harass plaintiff at this earliest stage of litigation.”
Hernandez, now 47, was elected at age 24 to the Rowland Unified School District Board of Education. He later won a seat on the West Covina City Council, then served from 2010-16 in the state Assembly before being termed out.
Susan Rubio is a former Baldwin Park city councilwoman who was elected to the state Senate in 2018. Blanca Rubio succeeded Hernandez in his former Assembly seat in 2016.
Hernandez and Susan Rubio were wed in June 2013 and he filed for divorce in December 2014. In his suit filed May 6, Hernandez, in addition to defamation, also alleges intentional interference with contractual relations and intentional interference with prospective economic relations.
According to the judge’s ruling, Hernandez alleged that in October 2021, Susan Rubio was a keynote speaker at a conference in which she stated that Hernandez committed various acts of violence against her. Hernandez alleged that a month later, Blanca Rubio said Hernandez said during a live panel discussion hosted by UC Irvine that the plaintiff was actively grooming other women for domestic violence and abuse.
The judge said that Hernandez and the Rubios are all public figures and that statements made by two public figures about a third are “likely to be deemed a matter of public interest.”
The Rubios made the statements while discussing their ongoing efforts to promote legislation to protect domestic violence victims, according to the judge, who also noted that Blanca Rubio was expressing an opinion and that she actually said Hernandez was grooming other women to disbelieve her sister and not that he was grooming them for domestic violence.
The judge additionally noted that a judge granted Susan Rubio against Hernandez in 2016 and that it was extended by another bench officer in 2020.
In his court papers, Hernandez maintained that Susan Rubio domestic violence claim against him was false and that Blanca Rubio’s statement that he was grooming other women for abuse was “outrageous.”
Hernandez’s court papers further stated that he did not dispute that the disputed comments by the Rubios arose from protected speech, but only whether he could “demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits” of his defamation argument. The judge concluded he could not and found no actual malice on the part of the Rubios.