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Merced College instructor files suit in 'robocall' case

TURLOCK — City Councilwoman Mary Jackson has filed a civil lawsuit to search out who was behind the automated calls impersonating her during the November election.

The lawsuit, filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court last week, alleges "unfair business practices" and seeks a maximum of $10,000 in damages and possibly more in punitive damages — those designed not to compensate for losses but to punish the person found to be responsible.

The voice on the automated call, known also as "robocalls," claimed to be Jackson and urged voters to reject the state proposition to ban gay marriage.

Jackson, who is on maternity leave from her job as a journalism instructor at Merced College, said the automated call urging a "no" vote on the emotionally-charged Proposition 8 was not recorded or paid for by her campaign.

The call was sent out just two days before voters went to the polls.

"The robocalls conveyed information which was inaccurate and improperly and maliciously represented Ms. Jackson's positions on various issues," the lawsuit reads.

Attorney Dan Farrar said filing the suit gives him the power to subpoena records and take depositions. The suit names only unnamed defendants, and names will be added to the lawsuit as information is revealed, Farrar said.

"We have to find out who's responsible," Farrar said. "Someone broke the law."

A trial date will be set during a case management conference in June, Farrar said.

On the call, a woman with an East Coast accent introduces herself as Jackson and says Turlock should support a "rich, vibrant community that includes everyone, irregardless of whom they choose to love."

The message also got Jackson's campaign committee wrong, claiming to be "paid for by the Friends of Mary Jackson." Jackson's fund-raising is funneled through the Committee to Elect Mary Jackson.

These "robocalls" are illegal in California unless a live person introduces the call and asks for permission to play the recorded message. But robocalls that come from call centers outside of California aren't subject to the rule.

Two other automated calls were sent from dubious sources for or against candidates in the Turlock City Council race.

An automated phone message claiming to be paid for by San Juan Capistrano-based Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods accused Jackson of currying favor with special interests. The group denied funding the call.

A second automated call "paid for by Taxpayers for Safe Neighborhoods," which is not registered on the California secretary of state's Web site, backed incumbent Kurt Vander Weide, who did not win re-election, and challenger Amy Bublak, who did win.