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Soria Turns to State Supreme Court After Setback in Karbassi's Defamation Lawsuit
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 1 month ago on
March 12, 2024

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Fresno Councilmember Mike Karbassi filed a defamation lawsuit against now-Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria.

Fresno County court tossed the lawsuit, but a state appeal court reinstated it.

Soria asks the state Supreme Court to review the appellate decision.

Campaign financial documents show Soria paying $129,000 to attorneys and Karbassi paying $10,158.


A defamation lawsuit between a Fresno city councilmember and a member of the state Assembly could be heading to the state Supreme Court.

Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi has an ongoing defamation lawsuit against Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria. Both are Democrats and ran for the Assembly seat in 2022 — won by Soria, who was Karbassi’s colleague on the city council at the time.

Before the June 2022 primary, Soria sent a controversial mailer to voters, implying that Karbassi had a criminal record. The truth was a Karbassi consultant had problems with the law, a fact found only on the other side of the flyer.

Soria won the primary and the general election to move up to the Assembly.

Karbassi sued for defamation. Soria got the case thrown out, but an appeal court overruled the local court. Now, Soria is asking for the state’s highest court to review the appellate decision. She filed a petition for review on Monday.

“I am satisfied that the 5th District Court of Appeal got it right,” Karbassi said. “The narrative in the Appeal Court ruling speaks for itself.”

Soria’s Assembly office referred the matter to her campaign team. Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment from GV Wire.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide on Soria’s filing. If it accepts the case, a hearing will take place. If it declines to consider Soria’s appeal, the case will return to Fresno County Superior Court.

The Fresno docket shows an April 9 date for a case management conference. It is unclear if that date will be affected by Soria’s Supreme Court request.

This flyer from Esmeralda Soria’s campaign against Mike Karbassi is now subject to a defamation suit. (Soria Campaign)

Appeal Court Makes a Distinction

Soria won in the lower courts by filing an anti-SLAPP motion (strategic lawsuit against public participation). The legal maneuver protects members of the public — including elected officials — so they can make statements, such as on political flyers.

Karbassi would have to disprove “no reasonable reader would take the [criminal] allegations as referring to [him],” the Jan. 30 appeal court opinion said.

Soria countered that the flyer should be read as a whole — the opposite side of the flyer “made it very clear” it was Karbassi’s consultant with the legal problems, not Karbassi.

“We disagree with Soria. The Taxpayer side does not ‘ma[k]e it very clear’—as a matter of law—the mailer’s criminal allegations refer solely to the consultant and not to Karbassi,” the opinion said.

In essence, the appeal court said that each side of the flyer must be read separately, and implying that Karbassi was a violent criminal could be defamatory.

If and when the defamation case goes to trial, the appeal court gave Karbassi more leeway to introduce statements and evidence that could bolster his case.

“We believe the fact average readers actually understood the mailer in a defamatory manner is circumstantially relevant to Soria’s state of mind in publishing the mailer, i.e., it is evidence Soria intended some readers to misattribute a confession, and criminal conduct, to Karbassi,” the appeal court said.

The appeal court also ruled that any information on the flyer about Karbassi’s spending is true and thus fair game.

If the appeal court decision stands, it could be a financial victory for Karbassi. The law allows for the loser of the motion to pay the attorney costs of the winner.

The appeal court denied Soria’s petition for a rehearing on Feb. 21, sending the case back to Superior Court. However, that could be paused pending the Supreme Court’s decision.

Soria Filing: Malice is the Question

The petition for review asks the Supreme Court to consider two questions:

  • Can Karbassi show Soria acted with malice by using hearsay evidence?
  • What level of proof does Karbassi need to show for the case to move forward?

No court has determined if Soria defamed Karbassi with the flyer. Because both are public figures, Karbassi would have to prove malice — that Soria knowingly lied about him in the flyer with reckless disregard for the truth.

In previous court filings, Karbassi offered as evidence that constituents reached out to him reacting to the flyer and its contents, believing he committed the crime.

Soria contends that hearsay is not enough to defeat her anti-SLAPP motion. She also questions whether “the clear and convincing evidence standard require(s) a higher level of proof in the context of an anti-SLAPP motion.”

“The Court has an opportunity to clarify two issues where the lower courts disagree and are producing inconsistent decisions. It is vital for there to be uniformity of decisions and no ambiguity as to what is required to demonstrate a probability of proving actual malice in a defamation case. It is important not just to the parties to this case, but to the public as well. Soria requests the Court grant review and resolve these conflicts in the law,” Soria’s filing said.

Soria and Karbassi Use Campaign Accounts to Pay Attorneys

State and city campaign financial documents show that Soria and Karbassi have used their respective campaign accounts to pay legal fees.

Since June 2022, Soria has paid Parker Taylor Law Group, PC of Sacramento $129,231.

Karbassi has paid Fresno-based Whelan Law Group $10,158. However, his last recorded payment is the campaign finance report through June 30, 2023. Karbassi said that is consistent with the agreement with his attorney.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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