County Supervisor Susan Golding, defending herself against a $5-million libel and slander suit filed by election opponent Lynn Schenk, was allowed by a Superior Court judge Friday to issue subpoenas to discover why Schenk took more than 200 state-financed trips between Sacramento and San Diego during her 2 1/2 years as a Cabinet official under Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
In November, Golding defeated Schenk in a bitterly contested race for the 3rd District seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The subject of the Schenk suit is a Golding campaign mailer sent to every home in the district on the day before the election.
Superior Court Judge Wesley Buttermore denied a request by attorneys for Golding and co-defendants Richard Silberman (Golding's husband), political consultant Dan Greenblat and the firm of Johnon & Lewis that Schenk's campaign officials and documents be subpoenaed as well.
Buttermore will rule later on whether the information compiled through the subpoenas of state documents and officials will be admitted as evidence when the trial begins.
Schenk filed the suit Nov. 7, the day after the election. Her action claims Golding acted with malice in sending a mailer on the eve of the vote to each resident of the district. The mailer, the suit alleges, incorrectly stated that Schenk was at the time under investigation by the state for charging personal travel to her state expense account.
The mailer also stated that taxpayers were being charged $10,000 for the investigation, to be conducted by the state's auditor general. On the day before the election, state Auditor General Chuck Hayes issued a press release branding the information in the mailer incorrect, but Schenk was unable to counter with a mailer of her own before voters went to the polls. Schenk claims the mailer caused her defeat.
Attorneys for the defendants said in court Friday that by introducing information from the campaign, they hoped to prove that Golding's mailer was produced in a climate different from that faced by newspaper or television reporters, and hence different standards should apply when judging whether information it disseminated was libelous.
"This information was not produced in a vacuum," said Robert Steiner, Golding's attorney. "She (Schenk) claims her reputation was damaged, but her reputation was tied to her conduct during that very campaign."
Schenk's campaign, like Golding's, was marked by a series of personal slurs bandied back and forth as the candidates together spent upwards of $750,000, a record for a San Diego County supervisorial campaign.
Michael Thoresnes, Schenk's attorney, argued that the court was incorrect in "suggesting that (the defendants) have a right to seek information on every trip Lynn Schenk made during a 2 1/2-year period."