Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) Chairman Xavier Avila received a letter from the law firms of Melo and Sarsfield on January 7 to cease communicating with Facebook group Caring Cause founder Elaine Hollingsworth.
Avila threatened Hollingsworth, the group’s administrator, with legal action on January 7. According to Hollingsworth, his text read:
“You accuse me of intimidating people. It is slander. I will sue you. I have all the evidence. It’s hypocritical how Caring Cause people who express themselves positively get bullied by your members. If I bully someone, why do they post what I said? I’m giving you a chance to fix this situation. It’s your choice. If you choose not to fix it, I will sue you. I already have legal counsel and they have all the evidence.
Avila did not specify what the “situation” was, or in what position he was threatening to act.
In response to the legal threat, Hollingsworth retained the legal services of Melo and Sarsfield as counsel. The company previously claimed that Avila violated state law by holding seats on both the cemetery board and the Tulare local health care district board.
Attorney Marguerite Melo sent Avila a letter stating that Hollingsworth is “…very aware of her rights under the First Amendment to criticize small government officials such as yourself, or government agencies, such as districts of the hospital or the cemetery”, and that he should “[k]direct all other correspondence for Ms. Hollingsworth regarding this matter to this office. »
Avila did not respond to a request from Valley Voice for comment, but then issued veiled claims against Hollingsworth, Tulare activist Alex Gutierrez, fellow board member Alberto Aguilar and the Voice on a Facebook group of which he is an administrator, Political Perspective on the Tulare Cemetery.
Not prepared for the threat
Hollingsworth is currently caring for her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, at her home. On January 2, her mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
Against this backdrop, and working only a few hours of sleep, Hollingsworth said her phone went off last Friday with Avila’s text as she tried to dress her mother for the day.
Hollingsworth’s first reaction, she said, was to text Avila that her mother was dying and “you can go to hell.”
She says she decided not to engage with Avila, but then asked, “Threaten to sue me for what? I haven’t commented on it in almost a year.
Hollingsworth speculated that her threat to sue may have come from a message she posted two days before receiving an email from the Voice of the Valley. The email informed her that Avila was using Caring Cause members’ comments against them.
Due to Avila’s alleged bullying and bullying behavior, Hollingsworth said she decided to seek Melo and Sarsfield’s help.
“I just think it’s horrible to threaten to sue me after all the hell he put so many people through and put me through. And when he was a member of Caring Causing, and pissing on other members’ comments. The audacity to call Caring Cause members and me bullies,” she said.
“Wow, look who’s calling the black kettle.”
Members of Caring Cause complained to Hollingsworth about Avila’s alleged threatening behavior towards them on Facebook, in private messages and via text. Hollingsworth says that’s why she blocked Avila from Caring Cause about a year ago.
A Visalia resident who did not want to be identified posted: “I can’t agree with you more. I had to block the guy from Avila because both times I voiced my opinion he started slandering and verbally harassing me on this page.
Melo: Avila violates her oath of office
“I think some of these officials don’t remember their oath of office. When they take an oath, they swear to uphold the Constitution. When you swear to uphold the Constitution, that’s a big deal,” Melo said.
The First Amendment is one of a citizen’s most fundamental rights, with the greatest protection under the law, Melo said.
“It is the ultimate recourse of citizens to confront the government or public figures,” she added.
Melo claims that Avila “violates his oath of office to uphold the constitution, especially the First Amendment, when he threatens to sue anyone expressing his opinion.”
In his letter, Melo states that the alleged slur against Avila’s character “was taken from the Valley Voice newspaper”, adding that “Ms. Hollingsworth’s opinion of you as a ‘bully’ is only cemented by these abusive threats of litigation.
Melo said that if Avila were to sue, Hollingsworth’s statements would be protected by California’s anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) laws, which protect free speech about public issues.
According to the California Anti-SLAPP Project, “SLAPPs are often brought by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials and entities against individuals or organizations who oppose them on public issues.”
“I don’t know how many times Mr. Avila violated the constitution, three times at least,” Melo said. “And fourth, don’t threaten to sue a private citizen unless you’re prepared to sue.”
“It calls into question Avila’s ability to fulfill her duties as a public official,” Melo said.
This is not the first time a board member has received a cease and desist letter.
Avila is not the first cemetery board member to receive a cease and desist letter.
Former cemetery board member Vicki Gilson sent a cease and desist letter to fellow board member Steve Presant in June 2020, alleging he trespassed on her property; at the time, both were on the board.
“Ms. Gilson has authorized us to request that you cease and desist from coming to her property or taking a photograph of the property,” said a letter from her attorney, Eric Eric Priedkalns of the Parker-Stanbury law firm. .
At the time, Presant and Avila were trying to vacate Gilson’s seat and appoint a new trustee, claiming she had moved to Missouri while still serving on the cemetery’s board.
Presant admitted via video at the May 23, 2020 TPCD meeting that he parked his car in his driveway, drove across his lawn, looked out his windows, turned on his water faucet and took photos of his property. He also knocked on his neighbor’s door, identified himself as a friend and asked where Gilson was.
Even though he lives across town and is unaffected by Gilson’s property, he later reported his allegedly overrun yard to Tulare Code Enforcement, according to the letter.
Avila admitted to doing the same at the September 17, 2020 meeting. He said he walked past her house several times, claimed there was no garbage service, spoke to his neighbours, spoke to people who attended Gilson’s church, and researched her and her husband’s voter registration.
Avila asked Gilson in a town hall session if she and her husband were separated and why she didn’t vote in the March 3, 2020 primary.
Avila then accused Gilson of being “registered here illegally”.
Avila continued, “Where are your heirlooms? Where are your baby photos? Where do you go to the doctor? Where do you buy your gas? Where do you do your banking? »
It only stopped when Administrator Aguilar fumed “If it was me, I’d sue you and you can quote me on that.”
Gilson explained that she divides her time between her home in Missouri and her residence in Tulare, which is her primary residence.
Avila said he intended to keep driving past her house just to check. When the audience grumbled in displeasure, Avila retorted, “I can drive past anybody’s house I want and you can’t tell me I can’t.”
Avila calls Hollingsworth, Gutierrez and his colleague Alberto Aguilar
In Avila’s lengthy message, he says, “This is a power trip. It’s a question of control, not of the graveyard. This person (Hollingsworth) thought he could control me and found out he couldn’t. So she intends to control what people think of me.
Avila continued, “They don’t like you standing up to them. They get mad if you tell them what they’re doing…they’re ready to lie about you! They will falsely accuse you of many things in order to control you or how people see you.
Towards the end of her statement, Avila said, “You have no right to slander and lie about people. You are entitled to your opinion. You have the right to criticize. You have the right to disagree, but you don’t have the right to lie about someone.
Taking a moment for self-reflection, Avila said, “I’m not even close to being a perfect person. There are a lot of people who are much closer to perfection than me. »