Four Berkeley city officials filed an appeal on May 16 in response to an Alameda County Superior Court decision in a defamation lawsuit brought against them by Sid Lakireddy, nephew of convicted sex trafficker Lakireddy Bali Reddy.
The suit, filed in November on behalf of Berkeley Property Owners Association president Sid Lakireddy, alleges that the four officials, who ran under the Progressive Affordable Housing slate for the Rent Stabilization Board, engaged in libel during last year’s deeply contested elections. The four officials are Igor Tregub, a commissioner on the Zoning Adjustments Board, and Rent Stabilization Board members Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Judy Shelton and Asa Dodsworth.
The lawsuit stems from an Oct. 18 email sent by Tregub on behalf of all four slate members to their supporters. According to court documents, Tregub’s email referred to Sid Lakireddy as “the same guy whose family was caught in a human trafficking ring and was complicit in murder” and contained a link to an article that mentioned unnamed family members of the Reddy clan as being involved in the crimes.
Andrew Cohn, Sid Lakireddy’s attorney, said that Tregub’s statement had no relevance to the 2012 city elections.
“What is being insinuated in the email that went out is Sid Lakireddy somehow played a role in all of the crimes committed by his uncle,” Cohn said. “He was a kid growing up in Merced when all this happened.”
Two of Sid Lakireddy’s cousins were implicated in Lakireddy Bali Reddy’s crimes, which included tax evasion and sex trafficking, but Sid Lakireddy was never implicated nor charged with the crimes.
Hunter Pyle, Tregub’s attorney, says that Sid Lakireddy’s support of the opposition slate during the elections made him a public figure and nullifies the suit.
“Sid Lakireddy is a public figure, engaged in political speech,” Pyle said. “Tregub [was] responding to that. The statements he made were not false, and even if they were, Sid Lakireddy hasn’t suffered any damages because of it.”
The defendants have also questioned the political nature of the suit and say that Tregub acted separately from the other three members of the slate when publishing the statement.
“This lawsuit is simply intended to harass and intimidate certain Rent Board members,” Soto-Vigil said in a written statement. “It is causing all of us and our families considerable stress and financial hardship.”
The defense is appealing a finding by the court that Sid Lakireddy was not initiating a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” by demanding that the candidates retract the statement prior to the conclusion of the election.
Cohn said that the lawsuit is not political but affects Sid Lakireddy on a personal level.
“If we wanted to make political hay about it, we would have filed the lawsuit before the election,” Cohn said. “It’s just a very difficult situation for anyone who has the name Reddy or Lakireddy.”