The morning after an Orange County Superior Court judge denied Gina Clayton-Tarvin’s request for a permanent restraining order against Huntington Beach blogger Charles “Chuck” Johnson last week, the Ocean View School District trustee dropped her lawsuit against him. The pair were due in court over the matter in early April, but Johnson, who runs the HB Sledgehammer blog, sought a continuance after gaining legal representation. Judge Timothy J. Stafford originally granted Clayton-Tarvin a temporary restraining order against Johnson on Mar. 26, but felt less generous the second time around.
“Sadly this ruling signals that it is acceptable in Orange County to threaten the life of public officials,” says Clayton-Tarvin in a statement to the Weekly. “It is a tragic day when the court will not extend an already-existing restraining order to protect against threats to kill me, to take an axe to my family, and to bomb public meetings.”
The permanent restraining order request closely mirrored the claims of the original civil suit filed. As previously reported, the latter outlined Johnson’s alleged violent threats and defamatory comments against the OVSD trustee on his blog, on social media and at public meetings in a pattern that began after she won reelection in 2016. It accused the blogger of writing “Crooked Gina–Be quiet or be killed” on social media and blogging, “Gotta sharpen up my axe. Lot of dead wood to clear out,” in a post dedicated to “the entire Tarvin family.”
According to the Daily Pilot, the judge deemed Clayton-Tarvin’s case for a permanent restraining order to be “weak” on Wednesday while criticizing Johnson’s explanations for his bombastic blogging. Fellow OVSD trustee Norm Westwell, who used to politically dub himself “Firecracker,” testified against Clayton-Tarvin. He disputed accounts of a Mar. 6 OVSD school board meeting where Johnson threatened to deliver Clayton-Tarvin’s “head on a stick” after having been removed by armed security. But Jim Choate, the district’s director of facilities, claimed at last week’s hearing that he asked Johnson to leave only to have him square up as if ready to fight.
Johnson framed the restraining order and suit against him to be efforts to silence his First Amendment rights. He opted to retain the legal services of Chad P. Morgan, a public law attorney, rather than a libel lawyer. After prevailing in court last week, Johnson doubled down with his typical banter. “[Clayton]-Tarvin yanked her pathetic civil suit because she realized that a far, far heavier beat down awaited her and she didn’t want to pay my attorney yet another $10,000 for the privilege of listening to me dismantling her fucking lies,” he wrote in a statement to the Weekly.
The school board member didn’t introduce evidence during last week’s hearing regarding the Huntington Beach Police Department investigation into Johnson’s threats, which, according to Clayton-Tarvin, found them to be credible enough to send the case over to the Orange County District Attorney’s office where it has sat ever since. She criticized Stafford’s ruling as a “reckless” one that rendered her civil suit “moot” in deciding to dismiss it the morning after.
“Justice was not served,” Clayton-Tarvin further states. “I continue to worry about my safety and that of my family.”