If You Kill Two People In A Car Crash, You Shouldn’t Then Sue Their Relatives For Emailing Your University About What You Did
from the insult-to-injury dept
So, in 2021 there was a car accident in Atwater California that killed a married couple, Pam and Joe Juarez. According to police reports at the time, a 20-year-old Stanford student, King Vanga, struck their car from behind. Here’s how ABC 30 reported on the matter:
The California Highway Patrol says Pam, 56, and Joe, 57, were driving west on Santa Fe Avenue approaching Spaceport Entry in Atwater.
They were just minutes away from their son’s house.
Officials say that’s when 20-year-old King Vanga collided into the back of their car at a high rate of speed.
The Juarez’s spun out and their vehicle caught fire.
Vanga overturned into a fence.
The Juarez’s died at the scene.
Vanga had minor injuries was booked into the Merced County Jail for driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and vehicular manslaughter.
The filed police reports claim that the officers believed Vanga was under the influence of alcohol, saying they smelled alcohol, though they were unable to administer a field sobriety test. He was still charged with a DUI, along with the vehicular manslaughter charges.
Vanga has since sued the police, claiming that the police violated his rights by attacking and tasing him, and that he “never drinks” and therefore the DUI charges are bogus. A blood test that was analyzed later by the California DOJ found that he had no traces of alcohol in his blood at the time, so it is entirely possible that he wasn’t actually drunk. Whether or not he was actually drunk or not seems like a fairly minor point in all of this, given that two people died in an accident where Vanga drove into the back of their car at high speed.
The family of Pam & Joe Juarez were understandably upset by their death, and a few family members sent emails to Stanford to alert them to what had happened, and alert them that they did not feel that Vanga had live up to Stanford’s code of conduct.
Vanga, somewhat incredibly, has decided to sue the family members of the couple he killed, claiming that their emails to Stanford were defamatory, because (a) they mention the DUI based on the police report and public reporting and (b) some of them said he “murdered” their family members, rather than merely killing them.
Let me repeat that, because it is quite incredible. It is undisputed that Vanga rear-ended another car, leading to the death of the two people in that car. Some of family members of the dead couple sent understandably angry letters to Stanford, the university Vanga attended. And now Vanga has sued those family members for relying on a potentially inaccurate police report, and using the word “murder” for what he did.
This is the SLAPPiest of SLAPP suits.
And now one of the defendants, Priscilla Juarez (a daughter-in-law of the deceased couple), has brought on Ken “Popehat” White to represent her against this insult-to-injury lawsuit. White has now filed an anti-SLAPP motion on Juarez’s behalf that calls out just how crazy this situation is:
Plaintiff King Vanga, a privileged student at an elite university, killed Defendant Priscilla Juarez’s in-laws and is now suing her for privately complaining about it. He is doing so in an overt effort to extort from her a promise not to encourage his criminal prosecution. This is a shocking and contemptible abuse of the justice system. Fortunately, the system that lets King Vanga abuse and harass his victims also provides a remedy – California’s robust anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) is a classic SLAPP, and this Court should dismiss it and award Ms. Juarez her fees and costs.
It’s undisputed that King Vanga was in a car accident that killed Jose and Pamela Juarez, Ms. Juarez’ husband’s parents. It’s also undisputed that Merced County charged Plaintiff with vehicular manslaughter and DUI causing great injury, and that the press widely reported that Plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Based on the criminal charges against Plaintiff, the press coverage she reviewed, and statements by police officers on the scene, Ms. Juarez wrote an email (“the Email”) to Stanford University stating her opinion that Plaintiff had violated its honor code, based explicitly on the criminal charges and press coverage. There’s no indication that Stanford disciplined Plaintiff. Instead, Plaintiff got a copy of the Email through a FERPA request, used it as an opportunity to sue Ms. Juarez for defamation, and made an extortionate demand that he would not drop the suit unless Ms. Juarez stopped talking about him killing her in-laws and stopped pushing for his prosecution.
California’s anti-SLAPP statute protects Ms. Juarez from King Vanga’s loathsome and immoral abuse of process. Ms. Juarez easily meets the first prong of the anti-SLAPP test, as her Email was sent in relation to an ongoing judicial proceeding and was an exercise of her right to free speech on an issue of public interest. But Plaintiff cannot carry his burden of showing a probability of prevailing. Most of the Email was Ms. Juarez’ overt opinions and conclusions, and was absolutely protected by the First Amendment. To the extent Ms. Juarez repeated factual allegations in the criminal complaint against Plaintiff and the extensive news coverage of the accident, Plaintiff cannot show that Ms. Juarez was negligent to rely on it.
Such a rule would mean that crime victims could never comment on crimes based on criminal charges and news coverage. Ms. Juarez’s statement is also protected by California’s common interest privilege. Finally, Plaintiff cannot provide admissible evidence of damages resulting from the Email. The Court should grant this Motion, dismiss this utterly shameful FAC, and award Ms. Juarez her attorney fees and costs.
There’s much more in the anti-SLAPP motion to strike. It details how Priscilla not only read the news about this, which accurately reported what Vanga was charged with, but also that family members had spoken with the arresting officer, who told them of his belief that Vanga was intoxicated. Whether or not that turned out to be true, it certainly shows that Juarez had a justification for saying what she said.
It also highlights how the first time she heard about Vanga denying being intoxicated was when he filed his lawsuit against the police, which was long after she had sent her email to Stanford.
And then there’s this:
After filing the lawsuit, Plaintiff’s counsel sent Mrs. Juarez an email offering to drop the lawsuit if Ms. Juarez agreed “not to make or publish any disparaging statements about Mr. Vanga in the future” and “not to encourage the criminal prosecution of Mr. Vanga, including by communicating with government officers or protesting at any conference, hearing, or trial involving Mr. Vanga.” (Juarez Decl. at ⁋21; Exhibit 9). Mrs. Juarez did not agree to abandon her First Amendment right to advocate for her in-laws.
Again, it is entirely possible that the cops were wrong in believing Vanga was intoxicated. We’ve covered many cases on this very site about cops being wrong. So if Vanga wants to sue the cops, more power to him.
But suing the family of the people who died because he rear-ended their car, for sending a private email to Stanford (over which the University took no action), based on public reporting and what officers on the scene said, is fucking crazy. It’s yet another example of abusing the courts to silence someone, and in this particular case adding real insult to actual injury.
The court should grant the motion to strike and make him pay through the nose for this gross abuse of the legal process to silence speech.
This is why we have been arguing for years for more and better anti-SLAPP laws. Luckily, California has a strong one. But many states do not. And even in many states that do have one, it cannot apply in federal court. We need every state to have a strong anti-SLAPP law and we need a federal anti-SLAPP law.