Matthew Martin, treasurer of the Kern County Young Republicans, has sued former Bakersfield mayoral candidate T.J. Esposito and former Bakersfield City Councilman Mark Salvaggio for releasing his private medical records.
The case had its first court hearing Tuesday.
The legal drama plays out against the backdrop of the passionate debate over commercial cannabis that has taken place in the county of Kern and the city of Bakersfield over the past several months.
And it seems to center around a document Martin’s attorney Doug Gosling tried to keep private in court Tuesday.
Martin is an employee of Western Pacific Research, a Republican political consulting firm that represents a number of clients who have voted against marijuana, including Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, the public face of an effort organizers have dubbed Kern County-Get Off the Pot.
Martin’s father, Ridgecrest City Councilman Wallace Martin, has spoken out passionately in support of a ban on cannabis in Kern County.
And Matthew Martin himself has spoken out against the adult use of marijuana.
“We’re suffering a deficit right now of motivation and morality. This is another means to keep people high, sitting on their couch and they’re not out there fighting for what they believe in or working for their families,” Martin told interviewer Kelly Gladden on an Oct. 19 Canoodle Studios show.
He told her, however, that there were legitimate uses for medical marijuana.
And he apparently put that belief into action.
According to an e-mail obtained by The Californian, Matthew Martin himself has a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana.
It appears that is the information that triggered Martin’s suit against Esposito and Salvaggio.
Esposito was a flamboyant candidate for the Bakersfield mayoral seat now held by Western Pacific Research client Karen Goh. Esposito has spent a lot of time recently as an advocate for the local legalization of marijuana.
Salvaggio is an internet gadfly with a sharp sense of humor and a long memory of Kern County political history. He regularly barbs Martin, Western Pacific Research and owners Mark and Cathy Abernathy in e-mails sent out to a massive local mailing list.
Martin, in his court filing, accuses Esposito of acquiring a document containing Martin’s “protected health information” and using it to try and force Martin to use his political connections to influence public policy on pot in favor of commercial marijuana.
Martin’s complaint states that “on or about” Oct. 22 at 9:30 p.m. Esposito sent him an e-mail containing a digital copy of his protected medical information.
The e-mail, Martin states, “made threats and demands on Martin and insinuated that Martin should attempt to influence the clients of his employer and attempt to influence public votes and public policy in favor of Esposito and the proliferation and commercialization of marijuana or the protected health information … would be illegally disseminated to the media, business owners and others.”
That e-mail was later sent to Salvaggio, Martin claims, and Salvaggio illegally distributed it to “third parties.”
Attorney Gabe Godinez, who representes Esposito, said Tuesday that the claims of extortion in Martin’s filings are false.
“That position is a complete fabrication,” Godinez said. “We’re going to fight that vigorously.”
Mr. Martin is a lobbyist and public figure and the issue of cannabis is of public concern given the serious and passionate debate over the topic in recent weeks, Godinez said.
Salvaggio, contacted Tuesday afternoon, stated he has never been served in the lawsuit and only learned about it through word of mouth.
“It will be resolved in court,” he said.
The core of the case appears to be an e-mail and document obtained by TBC Media on Oct. 23.
It contains a copy of an October 22 e-mail sent at 9:31 p.m. from Esposito to Martin with the subject line “found your marijuana license.”
The date and time match almost exactly the e-mail cited in Martin’s claim against Esposito and Salvaggio.
Two days later the Kern County Board of Supervisors was due to take up a vote on a plan to legalize and regulate commercial cannabis.
The e-mail claims that Martin left the attached doctors’ medical marijuana license in a mutual friend’s car and Esposito wants to return it, if Martin will agree to meet.
But Esposito is clearly not pleased with Martin and “his bosses.”
His first thought, he wrote, “was to fax it out to every business in Kern County, but then I thought what kind of (expletive) would do that?”
Rather than make the document public right before supervisors heard the matter, the e-mail reads, Esposito would trust county leaders to do the right thing.
But he clearly wanted something from Martin.
“I do want you and your guys to remember this next time you trash someone publicly. Remember everyone has baggage and this is a small town,” he said. “I would hope you and your bosses have a come to Jesus when you think it's okay to play dirty or talk bad about me to Sacramento lobbyists. Sometimes it's better to take the high road and keep your mouth shut.”
On Tuesday Martin and his attorney, Doug Gosling, declined to comment when asked about Martin’s medical marijuana recommendation.
Martin referred questions to Gosling, who said he “reserved comment due to pending litigation.”
On Tuesday Martin’s attorney Doug Gosling asked the court to issue an order preventing Espositio and Salvaggio from any additional release of his private medical information.
But Judge David Lampe wasn’t provided that private medical information and declined to approve the order.
“As I read this I didn’t think I could grant the stay. There is information missing,” Lampe said.
Gosling didn’t want the documents included in the public record and offered to show Lampe the information in the judge’s chambers.
But Attorney Jeffrey Wise, standing in for Godinez on Esposito’s behalf, opposed Gosling’s argument, saying he couldn’t defend his client unless he was able to see what he was defending him from.
Lampe agreed with Wise.
“I have to have a record of what I’m reviewing,” he said. “I can’t just take documents and look at them without the other side knowing what I’m looking at.”
Lampe ordered Gosling to deliver sealed copies of the documents to him and Esposito’s lawyers.
The case returns to court at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 1.