Chico State professor ordered to pay legal fees following unsuccessful libel case

A Chico State professor by the name of David Stachura, whose attempt to sue a colleague for libel failed, is now facing financial consequences.

Following a campuswide forum where a lecturer, Betsey Tamietti, accused Stachura of threatening to shoot up the biology department, the California State University system has been ordered by a Superior Court judge to be reimbursed more than $64,000 in legal fees that were incurred during the defense of Tamietti.

In July, Judge Stephen Benson dismissed Stachura’s lawsuit under a California statute that permits successful defendants to recover the costs of defending against such litigation. The fee order was issued at the end of last month. Stachura had also filed a libel lawsuit against his estranged wife, but he later dropped the case.

Chico State spokesperson Andrew Staples emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility for a public institution and expressed the school’s intention to recoup the attorney’s fees that were incurred in fighting a lawsuit that the court deemed to be baseless and a potential threat to free speech.

Stachura’s attorney, Kasra Parsad, did not provide a comment on the ruling when requested.

David Loy, legal director of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition, commended the outcome of the Stachura case and stated that the law effectively protects individuals who speak out on matters of public concern from being intimidated by frivolous and costly lawsuits. It allows defendants to swiftly defend themselves against meritless suits meant to intimidate critics, saving them from years of expensive legal battles. Loy also noted that in cases involving libel, the legal process itself can act as a form of punishment.

Tamietti made her remarks just days after EdSource published court documents from Stachura’s divorce case, in which his estranged wife claimed he had threatened to kill two colleagues who cooperated with a university investigation. The investigation had revealed Stachura’s inappropriate relationship with a graduate student, which included sexual encounters in his office.

In August, a separate judge granted a three-year workplace violence restraining order against Stachura, preventing him from coming near the Chico State campus or contacting Tamietti and other individuals involved in reporting his affair.

Stachura has been on paid suspension since December, and according to Staples, an investigation into the threats made against his colleagues and other related matters has concluded and is now moving into the next stage of the personnel process.

The CSU chancellor’s office is overseeing an independent investigation into Chico State’s handling of the Stachura case, including the initial investigation of the sexual misconduct and the gun threats. According to Amy Bentley-Smith, a spokesperson, the investigation is expected to be completed within the next month or two. It was also mentioned that Stachura faced minimal disciplinary action for the sexual misconduct case and was subsequently honored as the “outstanding professor” of the 2020-2021 academic year at the university.

During the hearings for the restraining order, Shanna McDaniel, a deputy state attorney general, expressed concerns that Stachura’s potential loss in the libel case and the likelihood of a fee motion, similar to the one approved by Judge Benson, would make him even more dangerous and pose a greater threat to the campus community.

In a written statement submitted as part of the libel case, Stachura claimed to have faced financial hardships over the past year, including the loss of consulting jobs with multiple companies. He is currently identified as the founder and CEO of Philanthropic Pharma, a company that appears to have him as its sole employee based on its website.

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