A board member of a local water district is defending herself against allegations in a lawsuit that she posted online videos and sent letters invoking the district’s name without the consent of its general manager or the entire board. She’s calling the action “an effort to chill free speech.”
Friday’s Los Angeles Superior Court filing against Leticia Vasquez-Wilson asks a judge to issue an injunction preventing her from taking such unilateral actions in the future. But in a letter to her fellow board members Tuesday, Vasquez-Wilson stood by her actions and asked that the district compensate her in defending herself against the legal action.
“These are false claims and I am totally innocent of any wrongdoing,” Vasquez-Wilson wrote, noting that the conduct referred to in the suit came during the “course and scope” of her duties as an elected official and board member.
“I hereby request an attorney for defense and indemnification for the claims made against me … ,” she said.
Vasquez-Wilson is a board member of the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which services 24 cities including Lakewood, Signal Hill, Bellflower, Hawaiian Gardens and others nearby.
Vasquez-Wilson told City News Service that the lawsuit is “an effort to chill free speech and silence me about the toxic water being sold to our community. I stand by my statements.”
According to the suit, the district has adopted an administrative code that prevents directors from posting videos or using its logo or stationery for business or non-district business, including any solicitation or other political activity, without approval from the general manager.
Last Sept. 27, Vasquez-Wilson posted on YouTube a video about water quality in Pico Rivera in which she referred to the district, identified herself as a board member and stated she wanted “to encourage both the city of Pico Rivera and the Pico Water District to consider purchasing water from the Central Basin,” the suit states.
The video was created in association with a group dubbed Political Life – Peoples’ Media based in eastern and southern Los Angeles County, according to the suit.
Vasquez-Wilson posted another video March 22, this time dealing with water quality, in which she once again referred to herself as a board member and placed the district’s name into captions within the video, the suit states.
The video also was made in association with the Political Life group, the suit states. The group’s website stated that Vasquez appeared in the video after agreeing to an interview regarding the video’s subject matter, according to the suit.
Vasquez-Wilson allegedly posted a third video in association with the Political Life group on April 26 regarding AB 1195 in which she also invoked the district’s name.
AB 1195, the California Safe Drinking Water Act, would provide for the operation of public water systems and imposes on the State Water ResourcesControl Board various responsibilities and duties relating to the regulation of drinking water to protect public health.
The videos “give the viewer the impression that (Vasquez) is making authorized statements on behalf of (the district) or that (the district) was otherwise involved in the creation of, or associated with, the videos, particularly given (Vasquez’s) direct reference to her position on (the district’s) board of directors,” the suit states.
Although Vasquez-Wilson and Political Life are free to express their personal views, the use of the district’s name in public, political statements without the district’s permission is contrary to its administrative code, the suit states.
Vasquez-Wilson also used district letterhead when writing in April to the cities of Santa Fe Springs, Lakewood, Downey and Signal Hill, the suit states.
The district’s general counsel advised Vasquez to stop her alleged unauthorized use of district materials, but the request was ignored, prompting the filing of the lawsuit, according to the district’s court papers.