Acosta accuser files defamation suit

Danta Acosta holds up copies of the text messages and the original device he used to send the messages during a press conference at GOP headquarters in Valencia in October. The text messages contain alleged sexual harrassment that Acosta denies. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Jennifer Van Laar — the woman accusing Dante Acosta of sexual harassment – has filed a defamation suit against the newly elected Republican Assemblyman from the 38th District for comments he allegedly made about her during the campaign.

The suit, filed Nov. 1 in Superior Court in Chatsworth, alleges that Acosta “commenced a campaign to smear (Van Laar’s) name, all to protect himself and his political ambitions” after Van Laar’s name hit the media in October in connection with the sexual-harassment allegations.

Van Laar, who worked as campaign manager for Acosta’s primary opponent in the Assembly race, Jarrod DeGonia, never went public with her allegations – but did detail them in a private letter to an acquaintance that was leaked and published, with her name redacted, on a Santa Clarita blog.

The suit alleges that, after various media outlets later identified Van Laar as the author of the accusatory letter, Acosta began his “smear” by accusing her of being “a liar,” “dishonest” and “malicious” — and saying, “Van Laar is trying to punish him (Acosta) for not hiring her,” as well as engaging in “dirty politics.”

Acosta had said Van Laar wanted to work on Acosta’s Assembly campaign after Acosta beat DeGonia in the primary.

Reached by The Signal on Wednesday, Acosta issued this statement, “per my counsel”:

“While I understand that a suit has been filed, I have not been served and have not been contacted by anyone regarding it. As I have said previously, there are no grounds for any claim.’’

Asked who his counsel is, Acosta replied, “I can’t say at this point. They’re not quite fully retained.”

Meanwhile, Van Laar’s attorney, Daniel M. Gilleon, told The Signal on Wednesday that Acosta had doctored and been selective with a package of text messages he released to the media, which Acosta had used during the campaign to defend himself against the harassment allegations.

“It’s one thing for Mr. Acosta to deny to the media that he committed sexual harassment, but it’s downright malicious to defame Ms. Van Laar with a false narrative created by his willful withholding of three inappropriate text messages from the media, and then assigning a false, vindictive motive for Ms. Van Laar to make this up,’’ said Gilleon.

The attorney pointed to what he said were three exchanges — attached to the lawsuit — that either did not appear in Acosta’s released texts or did not match what he released.

They concern what Gilleon said were two exchanges on Jan. 8, 2015 and one on March 14, 2016.

On that Jan. 8, Gilleon’s attachment claims, Acosta texted Van Laar, “I enjoyed our chat the other night. Could have used more wine though (smiley face emoji).”

Also on Jan. 8, the attachment claims, Acosta texted, “But on the other night, I meant what I said.” That was a reference, the suit says, to “sexually suggestive comments” Acosta had made to Van Laar two nights earlier.

Both of those exchanges occurred before the beginning of Acosta’s released texts, which start on Jan. 25, 2015.

As for March 14, 2016: According to the suit, “In a text to Acosta letting him know that she wanted to speak with him, but also that she wanted to go to sleep, she stated, ‘Ugh it’s almost 11 pm – I need to get my beauty sleep haha.’

The suit attachment says Acosta replied, “No, no – I know you hate it when I say things like this but I’m gonna say it anyway … But you don’t need your beauty sleep. You shouldn’t be allowed to get any more beauty sleep!”

That text exchange, which the lawsuit attachment time-stamps at 10:45 p.m., does not appear in the package released by Acosta, though other exchanges at that hour do appear in the Acosta release.

The only reference to “beauty sleep” in the texts released by Acosta show Van Laar saying at 10:54 p.m. on March 14, “Plus I need my beauty sleep.”  According to Acosta’s released material, that was their final text exchange until the next morning.

“He bypasses those – I think he deleted them (from the package he released to the media),” Gilleon said of the texts attached to his suit.

Acosta said during the campaign that he would make his cell phone available to anyone who wanted to examine it, as proof his released texts were not doctored.

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