Rob Mendiola, former SBC planning director, sues Los Valientes,
attorney; claims defamation
Hollister – Gilroy Unified School District Facilities Administrator and former San Benito County Planning Director Rob Mendiola is suing controversial lawyer Michael Pekin and the elusive group Los Valientes for defamation and invasion of privacy, claiming they waged a smear campaign against him, according to court documents.
Mendiola, who was fired in May after 20 years as the county’s head planner, filed his complaint Tuesday in the Santa Clara County Superior Court and based it largely on Pekin’s actions concerning the Los Valientes lawsuit. In Pekin’s lawsuit, he alleged former Supervisor Richard Scagliotti used his position for financial gain, and that Mendiola was involved.
Also named in Mendiola’s suit are Pekin’s staff; Dave Henderson, the investigator whose research Pekin used to back his suit; and Juan Monteon, the San Benito County resident who eventually put a name and face to the Los Valientes suit.
Mendiola’s suit claims Pekin, the anonymous group Los Valientes and the other defendants entered into an “illegal civil conspiracy the object of which was to cause citizens of San Benito County falsely to believe that various elected county officials and employees were corrupt and/or engaged in illegal activities.” Mendiola is suing Pekin and those involved with the Monteon suit for defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of mental distress and abuse of process.
The lawsuit also stated that Pekin began an “active campaign to smear Mendiola” and maliciously and intentionally made comments to newspapers, published in San Benito and Santa Clara County, that Mendiola acted unprofessionally and illegally by allegedly showing favoritism and bias in a variety of planning department-related matters.
Mendiola could not be reached for comment.
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors fired him on a 4-1 vote after initiating an investigation into the planning department due to issues surrounding the Monteon suit and the allegations it makes. The investigation eventually absolved Mendiola of any criminal wrongdoing, according to the county attorney.
Mendiola’s Oakland-based attorneys, Phillip Berry and Roger Beers, did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Pekin filed the Los Valientes suit, now termed the Monteon suit, in 2003, and it is still weaving its way through the San Benito County legal system. Patrick Pekin, Pekin’s son and attorney, believes Mendiola’s suit is nothing more than an intimidation tactic used to pressure Pekin and crew to drop the Monteon suit.
“My first thought is, ‘Why does he need to try to run in Santa Clara?’ Because he doesn’t have a case in San Benito,” Patrick Pekin said. “The whole point of this lawsuit is to prevent the Monteon litigation from going forward. We are most certainly not intimidated by it. He can ask for the moon and the stars, that wouldn’t make us any less intimidated.”
Patrick Pekin believes Mendiola will have a difficult time convincing a Santa Clara County judge why the suit should be litigated in Santa Clara, and proving defamation. To win a defamation suit the plaintiff has to prove the information was false to begin with, and Patrick Pekin believes Mendiola’s attorneys will be taxed to do that since the Monteon suit hasn’t been resolved yet.
“It seems pretty pathetic, frankly,” Patrick Pekin said. “There’s case law that says you can’t file a case on issues that are still pending in another case. Let one lawsuit finish, find out if it’s true or it’s not true. You can’t file a retaliatory lawsuit preventing people from going to court. That raises serious questions because those are black-letter rules.”
Based on his claim that the defendants allegedly acted in reckless disregard for Mendiola’s rights, he is asking for punitive damages – which are intended to punish a defendant financially if they’re granted. Along with those damages, which are not set forth in the suit, Mendiola is also asking for attorney’s fees and any other damages the court may deem proper.
Although Pekin’s lawsuit originally focused on Scagliotti – who said he was unaware of Mendiola’s lawsuit but declined to comment “on advice of my attorney” – Pekin later included Mendiola in the matter, claiming Mendiola used his position as planning department head to aid Scagliotti’s illegal activities.
Pekin has been embroiled in one lawsuit or another for the past two years, stopping for periods of time to defend himself against five felony charges leveled against him by a criminal grand jury. A judge later dismissed those charges entirely.
Pekin also has had to defend his legal aide, Amanda Hernandez, against a criminal charge alleging she practiced law without a license – a charge later dropped by District Attorney John Sarsfield.
Pekin’s latest endeavor is battling it out with Sarsfield in the courts over a civil suit Sarsfield filed, which hasn’t been resolved yet, that asks that Pekin and his associates get a judge’s permission before filing any more lawsuits against the county and that they pay a fine as much as $500,000, plus attorney’s fees.