MONTEREY PARK — Frank Arcuri came to this week's City Council meeting to serve Mayor G. Monty Manibog with notice of recall.
But before Arcuri could make his announcement, the mayor served the community activist with notice that Manibog had filed a $1-million libel suit against him.
The confrontation sparked a bitter exchange between the two, the latest flare-up in a long-smoldering dispute between Arcuri, an advocate of making English the state's official language, and Manibog, who voted against an official-English resolution passed by the council on June 3.
Sparked Recall Petitions
Passage of the resolution, denounced by some residents as racist and divisive, has led to a petition drive by developer Kevin Smith to recall Barry Hatch, Pat Reichenberger and Cam Briglio, the three council members who voted for the measure.
Arcuri began a campaign this week to recall Manibog, announcing his intentions in the Monterey Park Voice, a newsletter he prints and distributes.
In his article, Arcuri charged that Manibog is financing the recall drive against his fellow council members, attributing this information to "inside sources."
When Arcuri stepped to the podium at Monday night's meeting to formally deliver his recall notice to Manibog, the mayor angrily questioned him about the article.
"Who are your inside sources?" he asked. "You have to tell me now or tell a judge."
After Arcuri refused to disclose the source of his information, Manibog directed a process server in the audience to serve Arcuri with notice of the lawsuit.
The suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, contends that Arcuri's allegation is false and "was published with an evil motive and malice." Manibog is seeking a retraction and $1 million in punitive damages.
"It's a bald-faced lie," Manibog told Arcuri at the meeting. "You're trying to pit council members against council members."
A shouting match ensued, during which Arcuri and Manibog hurled insults at each other while partisan members of the audience heckled one man or the other.
At one point, Manibog threatened to clear the council chambers if the disturbance did not cease.
After another outburst, Briglio, the mayor pro tem, chastised both men, telling Manibog to "either quit getting personal or give me the gavel."
Confrontation in Foyer
Hostilities continued to erupt periodically throughout the first hour of the meeting and during a subsequent recess, when the Manibog and Arcuri confronted each other in the City Hall foyer.
While Manibog was speaking to reporters, Arcuri interrupted, telling the mayor the lawsuit would backfire on him.
"It'll blow up in your face, just like everything else you've done," Arcuri said.
"Someday, something's going to blow up in your brain," Manibog shot back.
Not First Disruption
This was not the first time acrimony between Manibog and Arcuri has disrupted a City Council meeting.
On April 28, Manibog ordered Arcuri removed from council chambers for refusing to leave the podium after the mayor told him he was out of order during a public hearing on a proposed moratorium on construction in the city.
According to police, when Capt. Joe Santoro attempted to escort him from the chambers, Arcuri shouted an obscenity at the officer and elbowed him in the face.
Arcuri was dragged out of the chambers and arrested on suspicion of disrupting a public meeting, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
Compared to Marcos
Arcuri has accused Manibog of using the police as henchmen in his struggle to maintain political power. At times, he has compared the mayor to deposed Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.
"He's a dangerous man to attack," Arcuri said after the council session. "I was waiting for him to call the police on me at Monday's meeting."
The fact that Arcuri is represented in his criminal case by a public defender was mentioned frequently at Monday's meeting by Manibog and other speakers critical of Arcuri.
"He doesn't have money for a lawyer, but he has money to publish this kind of rubbish," said resident Esther Javier, holding a copy of the Monterey Park Voice.
Arcuri said that it would have cost him about $20,000 to hire an attorney to defend himself against the charges stemming from the April council meeting.
He said that Manibog's civil action is part of an effort by the mayor "to bring so many cases on me that I'll be financially devastated."
Manibog denied this was the intention of the suit.
"If somebody lies about you and besmirches you, the only legal thing to do is to take him to court," Manibog said. "I did the legal thing: I filed suit against him. I didn't punch him in the mouth as I would have liked."
Expects to Win Case
The mayor added that he is certain he will win the case.
"The only defense in a defamation action is the truth," Manibog said. "He doesn't have a ghost of a chance of proving it because it just isn't so."