Lawsuits dropped against 2 longtime residents

SOLANA BEACH — Councilman Mike Nichols and former Councilwoman Lesa Heebner have dropped their lawsuits against longtime residents Sandy Parish and Mary Jane Boyd.

Joe Balla, a member of the team negotiating to develop the Solana Beach train station property, has also dismissed legal action against Parish and at press time was negotiating a settlement with Boyd, which should clear her within a week.

The trio was suing the two women, former City Council candidate Edward Siegel, M.D., and Brian Hall, his campaign manager, for defamation and invasion of privacy for a combined total of at least $25 million for comments made and disseminated during the 2016 election.

Keith Rutman, the attorney for Heebner and Nichols, said his clients opted to drop the suit as a “litigation strategy.”

“I can’t get into the details, but we decided to focus on the other two defendants,” Rutman said.

Dick Semerdjian, who is representing Balla, said Parish retracted an email she had written and forwarded, something that was unknown when the lawsuit was filed.

At press time he said he was waiting for Boyd, 83, to sign a settlement agreement, the details of which are required to remain confidential.

“We’re satisfied with her willingness to cooperate with the issues and statements she made,” Semerdjian said.

Legal action is proceeding against Siegel, Hall and Andrew Jones, a fictitious character whose name was attached to the letters and emails that sparked the litigation.

Responding to what he deemed public defamation by Heebner, who chose not to seek re-election in 2016, Siegel sent a letter to the editor titled “Shady business on the Solana Beach Train tracks” that ran in the Oct. 28 issue of The Coast News.

Siegel wrote that according to rumors, Heebner resigned from City Council and Nichols would not seek re-election in 2018 to take design and landscaping jobs for the train station redevelopment.

He also stated he “and many others find it particularly odd that a less qualified person, with little experience, and no contractor’s license beat-out a very well-respected developer. … This was a backdoor deal.”

North County Transit District, which owns the train station property, has for years been trying to develop the site. Four developers submitted plans in response to a 2015 request for proposals.

A selection committee comprising Solana Beach residents Gary Martin and Tim Coughlin and two NCTD representatives ranked each one.

RhodesMoore LLC, which includes Balla, received the highest ranking, and in May 2017 the NCTD board of directors agreed to enter into an exclusive negotiation agreement.

City Councilwoman Jewel Edson, Solana Beach’s representative on the board, recused herself from the vote. Final approval is pending as a joint development agreement and ground lease are being negotiated.

To give Heebner, Nichols and Balla a chance to respond to Siegel’s accusations, The Coast News ran a story Nov. 6 in which the three said the claims were unfounded.

In October 2016, “Jones” sent an email to the NCTD board of directors titled “All roads lead to Harbaugh,” making accusations similar to those in the letter to the editor.

The email to NCTD also claimed Balla used funds from The George & Betty Harbaugh Foundation, which Balla controlled after George Harbaugh’s death in 2012, to make a donation to help pay off a loan used to ensure a vacant parcel in the north end of Solana Beach would remain open space.

Balla “bought himself a train ticket to conduct the NCTD Solana Beach Redevelopment Project,” the email states.

Boyd was being sued because she received the “Shady business” and “All roads” emails and forwarded them to some friends, including Parish, who then forwarded them as well.

Boyd and Parish declined to comment.

Hall filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion asking to strike the complaint. The hearing is scheduled for May 11.

Siegel, who only recently hired an attorney, said he reached out to Balla and Heebner.

“I did try to mend fences,” Siegel said. “There’s never been any malice.”

As for the fictitious character behind many of the emails, Hall said, “No one is Andrew Jones because he doesn’t exist. Andrew Jones is a pseudonym. Ed Siegel City Council 2016 used this entity to the candidate’s benefit.”

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