The state’s court of appeals issued its opinion in a local legal saga over a restraining order and harassment claim between two City Council candidates stretching back more than a year.
The 2nd Appellate District Court’s decision Tuesday announced Brett Haddock was unsuccessful in his appeal of a two-year restraining order Sean Weber had placed on him, which started over claims made while both candidates were seeking to fill the previous City Council vacancy in 2017.
Weber testified under oath that he feared for his and his family’s safety after Haddock created a page on his website, bretthaddock.com, called “Sean Weber: Charlatan, Bully and Criminal” and the Appellate Court found his restraining order was “supported by sufficient evidence of Haddock’s course of private harassing conduct.”
“The behavior was getting more pervasive and I felt like we had no choice, in order to protect my family,” Weber said, regarding his rationale for his initial filing.
Haddock, reached by phone Wednesday, said he planned to “fight this to the very end.”
“This is outrageous and it’s a shame that the justice system has been manipulated in this way,” Haddock said. “The next step is the Supreme Court — I’m going to be talking to my attorney later today.”
Haddock estimated that he’d spent about $20,000 in legal fees on the case to date, and was supported by Eugene Volokh for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which wrote an amicus curae brief in support of Haddock’s case.
Haddock felt his communication with Weber was free speech protected by the First Amendment. Ultimately, the three-judge appellate court panel disagreed, noting the following:
“Haddock claims the (restraining) order was improperly based on his public internet blog post criticizing Weber, which he argues was protected speech. We certainly agree he has a First Amendment right to publicly criticize a candidate for public office.
“The problem with his argument is that he has not included a sufficient appellate record for us to evaluate his claim. Even on a sufficient record, however, we would reject his argument because the evidence before the trial court demonstrated that Haddock also engaged in a course of private harassing conduct toward Weber and his family, which justified the restraining order notwithstanding any claimed protected speech.”
The dispute between Haddock and Weber began during the appointment process, when Haddock took issue with claims made by Weber, challenged Weber’s claims in the aforementioned website and then began to interact with Weber on social media.
The court’s decision, Haddock said, was based on a series of tweets that had nothing to do with Weber, according to Haddock, as well as what Haddock said were unsubstantiated claims. He added there was no proof he was in any way connected to the vandalization of property that Weber said occurred as a result of Haddock’s posts.
“I think the record speaks for itself and what the court wrote is exactly on point,” Weber said. “If he wants to limit litigation cost, then he needs to stop presenting frivolous litigation. The goal for me and my family is to put this behind us, and hopefully he lets this go.”