An Alameda County Superior Court judge has thrown out Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks' libel suit against San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson. Judge Jon Tigar had indicated in a tentative ruling last month that he was inclined to allow Brooks' case to move forward, but in a decision made public yesterday, Tigar dismissed the councilwoman's suit, saying that even if parts of Johnson's column about her were untrue, the story was still protected speech.
Chronicle lawyers got the case dismissed on an Anti-SLAPP motion, a state law that allows courts to throw out weak libel cases. Brooks had maintained that a portion of a paragraph in one of Johnson's columns was false, and thus libelous. The paragraph referred to an investigation of Brooks taking illegal kickbacks and included a portion that said authorities had found actual evidence of a crime. Brooks denied that was true. But Tigar ended up agreeing with the newspaper lawyers' that even if the portion was false, it would not have changed the "sting" or overall meaning of the paragraph, and thus the story was "substantially true as a matter of law" because Brooks did not dispute the fact that she had been investigated. It's not clear whether Brooks plans to appeal.