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Former MUSD Superintendent Cecelia English requests Cactus Thorns remove elements from story

By   /   July 10, 2014  /   3 Comments

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Cecelia English, former Superintendent Moronge Basin School Distinct

 

Updated Thursday, o7-10-2014 @ 9:45 a.m. ♦

Cecelia English is the former Superintendent, Morongo Unified School District. Ms. English contact Cactus Thorns Publisher, Dan O’Brien yesterday via email. Ms. English respectfully requests that “certain elements from your blog be removed because they are untrue.” I have responded to Ms. English by email giving her assurances that if I wrote anything erroneous I will be glad to correct any inaccuracies for which I may be held responsible for writing. Here is the Cactus Thorns blog story in question.  Click here <<

 At this juncture, it’s unclear what elements Ms. English is requesting be removed.

FIRST

Without the advantage of speaking directly with Ms. English, I can say I can’t correct elements embodied in the correspondence to her from Monica Miller, Esq., with the Appignani Legal Center. The letter is now public information. As well, Ms. English is a public figure. Cactus Thorns readers have a state and constitutional right to view the letter. Branson Hunter has no standing to change anything in the attorney’s letter. There is no element of reckless disregard for truth on the part of Cactus Thorns or any of it’s contributors. The First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity). New York Times Co. v. Sullivan standard of a public person apply to to anyone who was/is sufficiently public, not just government officials.

SECOND

In addition to the  letter to Ms. English, references to SANDS vs. MORONGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT et al. were posted with an overview of the case by a Megan Sharpe. I have no standing to change, correct or rewrite alleged inaccuracies, if any, in the Sharpe analysis, none of which were produced or commented upon by Branson Hunter or Cactus Thorns.

THIRD

As recent as Jan. 2014, a federal appeals court unanimously overturned a defamation award against a blogger, ruling that 1st Amendment protections for traditional news media extend to individuals posting on the Web. “The protections of the 1st Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities,” Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz wrote for a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel said its holding was the first of its kind within the 9th Circuit but that other circuit courts already have extended protections for journalists to individual speakers. Link <<

FOURTH

In July 2011, National Technical Systems, Inc. and its president sued former NTS vice-president Brett Schoneman (“appellant”) for defamation, alleging that Schoneman made posts on the Yahoo!Finance message board containing false and defamatory statements about the respondents’ management practices and behavior. Schoneman brought a special motion to strike under the California anti-SLAPP statute (strategic lawsuits against public participation, Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 425.16).The anti-SLAPP statute is aimed at curbing “lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances.” (§425.16, subd. (a).) Protected speech includes statements made in “a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.” (§425.16, subd. (e)(3).) The Court of Appeal reversed the above judgment, ruling that the Internet message board was a “public forum,” a place open to the public where information is freely exchanged.

FIFTH

Accordingly, under NTS vs. Schoneman case and Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 425.16, Ms. English has a public forum in Cactus Thorns in connection with an issue of public interest to correct any inaccuracies Ms. English takes issue with. Cactus Thorns is an open forum where public information is freely exchanged.  Hence, Ms. English has the same opportunities to publish her point of view in Cactus Thorns as have Megan Sharpe and attorney Monica Miller. Said letter to Ms. English and the accompanying court case with analysis is public information. Ms. English is a public figure.

SIXTH

I have  to ask “What are the alleged inaccuracies?”

It appears that the only accurate in posting the story as it applies to Branson Hunter is the title of the story. I am waiting to speak with Ms. English. If it is erroneous, the title will be corrected.

Meantime, Cecelia English is invited to express her views, responses or rebuttals in Cactus Thorns to the attorney’s letter or commentary from an outside third party. In this way, Ms. English has the same privileges and any other individual to state her case, and specifically be afforded the same exposure as Megan Sharpe and attorney Miller.

I have also invited Ms. English to contact me via email or telephone to express what the “inaccuracies” may be and clarify the nature of her departure from Superintendent, MUSC.  

SEVENTH 

Here is Ms. English’s email to Cactus Thorns, as follows:

To:  Dan OBrien, administrator for Cactusthorns.com and editors/owners of Cactus Thorns Blog/paper
        XXXX Twentynine Palms Hwy.
        Twentynine Palms, CA  92277
        Phone: XXX – XXXX 
 
Good morning,
 
I would like to respectively request that certain elements from your blog be removed because they are untrue.  In the July 1, 2014 article by Branson Hunter, it stated “Fired MUSD Superintendent Cecelia Greenberg-English” and then proceeds to show a letter addressed to “Cecelia English”     In another article by Megan Sharpe, it stated in several areas that I was “given the boot” and mentioned being fired.  These statements and headlines are untrue.  While I respect the right of people to have divergent opinions, these were presented as fact.
 
As to the letter that was presented, I cannot comment on an element that may or may not become a legal matter for the school district,; however, I can encourage you to investigate further.  For instance, when we received an email just before the graduation ceremony, and although we were unsure at the time whether we had the authority to do so, district officials contacted Hope Academy asking them not to have any type of religious ceremony at graduation. (There were numerous witnesses to this fact. ) District officials were assured that there would not be any.  Former Assistant Superintendent Dave Price, now of Hope Charter, attended the ceremony and later assured district officials that nothing religious went on.  At my request and since a board member had also sent an email to both of us, I asked him to follow up with one of the district’s attorneys to determine whether we had the right to direct  the “independent” charter school in matters other than fiscal and curriculum.  He obtained the information (his opinion was that we were not responsible) and forwarded it to the board member who had requested information on the district’s responsibilities.  Later, when the aforementioned letter was received, it was forwarded to Assistant Superintendent Doug Weller, asking him to obtain an official letter from the district’s attorney so that district officials and board members could be advised.  (I requested Mr. Weller to obtain this information instead of Mr. Price so that there would be no perception of bias by Dave Price since he was leaving for a promotion to Hope Academy.)  Thus, I believe that if this issue is of serious interest to you, perhaps you might want to contact Hope Academy officials.
 
In advance, I thank you for your attention to this matter.  As I stated earlier, I do respect the right of people to have divergent opinions when expressed as informed opinions, not facts. Hopefully, the aforementioned has given you some information that you may not have been aware of.  Additionally, on an entirely different note, I have been clear from the start that I am not a fan of outside “district-sponsored” charter schools in general.  Hope Academy was put in place by a previous board and superintendent.
 
Kind regards,
Cecelia

 

EIGHTH 

Here is Cactus Thorn’s email response to Cecelia English, as follows:

From: Dan O <isp2@obtel.com>
Date: Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 6:13 AM
Subject: RE: Blog article
To: cecelia english, xxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.com 

Please review our Terms of Use and our Reuse and Copyright policies.
While you see that I am most willing to give you my personal information concerning this website, and I do appreciate your candid request for correction, I am not sure of who I am dealing with? While you know me I do not have the slightest idea or assurances of who I am writing to. A Hotmail email address could be anyone. But let me attempt some general observations.
I believe Brandon Hunter was reporting on information already published by other sources. As you must be aware as a “Public Person” as to your public persona, you have no expectation of privacy and in most cases have little defense against public ridicule. Lord knows as a “Vortex” Public Person, I have had my share of public ridicule.
Allow me to review the facts, which will allow you to properly identify yourself, so that I might better evaluate the story and if it violated any terms.
Please Note: We will attempt to correct any information we find to be false. We will not publish any information about a public figure that we “believe” to be “False” or have “actual knowledge of being false”. (See Sullivan vs New York Times) Please let us know if you find any additional information regarding any posted statements herein. The information posted here has had a very high probability of being factually correct. We have tried to be diligent in our postings as to avoid any “reckless disregard” for the information presented (expanded Sullivan Rule). The letters are provided a “Matter of Public Concern” therefore are “Common Law Privilege” (See Sullivan vs New York Times). These letters are posted as citizen opinions under the First Amendment Right. In 1974, Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc, 418 U.S. 323 there is no such thing as a false idea. Even obvious sarcasm is not liable per 1988 ruling in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell 485 U.S. 46. This forum of letters is a constitutional privilege of “neutral reporting” per Edwards v. NationalAudubon Society.
Dan O’Brien
NINTH
Here is my e-response to Ms. Cecelia English, as follows:
From Branson Hunter (aka Ben Holstrom)
TO: Cecelia English
Email dated: July 10, 2014 | 6:13 a.m. 
Ms. English,
Good morning. I just read the exchange of emails between you and Cactus Thorns Publisher, Dan O’Brien. Dan called me yesterday regarding your concerns and we spoke briefly. 

I posted the story in question. I am actually a neutral party and only posted the story which contained a “letter” addressed to you and a comment by a third party. 
 I am willing to work with you on the story in order to insure that any erroneous information I wrote will be correct. I am open to changing the title and possible explaining you were not fired (if that is the case). 
In any event please call me early this morning if possible. I have a window of time this morning to work on a follow-up to try and accommodate your requests. 
Please call ASAP via telephone early this morning so we can talk. And I can put up a follow-up  to your story. 
Regards,
Branson Hunter (internet handle)
Ben Holstrom (real name)
-  END -

 

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About the author

Branson Hunter

(This story was posted by Cactus Thorn contributor Branson Hunter)

"The ends do not justify the means." If you use illegal mean to accomplish a legal and even desirable result, the good result does not make the bad means you used justifiable.

3 Comments

  1. Dan OBrien Dan OBrien says:

    Excellent summary of events and explanation of the legal questions.

  2. At issue: What is the correct term for Ms. English’s departure?

    The correct term is unclear. it should be noted that the title of the story has a question mark after the header, as if asking was she fired. There seems nothing improper about the title.

    However, if Ms. English contacts me I (still) wouldn’t have a problem with a correction or update to the title of the story to inform readers under what circumstances Ms. English left her public position.

  3. Ms. English has not responded to my email. I reached out to her in a friendly manner with a willingness to correct the header and post an update. But If ‘fired’ is an “inaccurate” term, what is the correct term for Ms. English’s departure?

    It seems odd Ms. English would forward her friendly and professional email requesting certain elements from the story be removed, and then not follow up on telling us what the inaccurate are (but for the title).

    If it was a voluntary departure, Ms. English ought to let me and the readers know.

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