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Local News

Hearing Continues Over Restraining Order Against Activist Kate Smith

County employees testify about their interactions and concerns with her

Administrative assistants to Santa Barbara County officials testified against activist Kate Smith on Monday during a hearing to decide whether the standard is met for a building-wide restraining order against her.

Five employees who work in the county administration building at 105 E. Anapamu St. initially filed declarations against Smith, who frequents the building to ask questions of staff and comment at Board of Supervisors meetings, among other things.

One declarant — of the county executive office — no longer works in the building so that case was dismissed, according to county counsel representative Victoria Tuttle.

The four remaining employees are Lael Wageneck, the producer of in-house video for the county; Eric Friedman, administrative assistant to First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal; Araceli Velasco, receptionist for the Board of Supervisors’ main office; and Ethan Duffy, a clerical assistant who takes on receptionist duties when others go on break at the county counsel’s office.

Tuttle said board members and county counsel haven’t had the same level of interaction or concerns — naturally, since they’re behind closed doors and receptionists are the gatekeepers.

Three of them testified Monday with similar stories: Smith entered the office in which they worked seeking something — information, coffee or a meeting with someone — was denied, reacted emotionally and left.

All stated that they have felt threatened by Smith and were aware of her “unpredictable” emotions and mental illness issues from her public comments at Board of Supervisors meetings if not firsthand, which factored into their reasoning behind their declarations.

Smith previously was issued a restraining order by the Santa Barbara school board, but it was later expunged. She’s been involved in lawsuits with the county and Santa Barbara School District for years and often speaks of educational and government corruption.

She is, admittedly, an emotional person, but claims the jump to a restraining order — when no one who has testified has ever reprimanded her or even told her they were uncomfortable — is a SLAPP: strategic lawsuit against public participation. Some of the incidents stated in declarations involved her small-claims cases against various county officials, since she has visited offices looking for information or a meeting in which to serve a subpoena, which Smith brought out during cross examination.

She represented herself, but Judge Denise Motter and Mark Harding, an advocate who was allowed to sit with Smith to help her get through the proceedings, kept her on track, as she is — by her own admission — prone to stress, long-windedness and tangents while speaking. Her cross-examination questions made each person reiterate how they felt fear in the particular situation with her, a “60-year-old lady,” the reasons she came to their offices — never because of them personally — and how they handled the situation.

During attempts to meet with Carbajal, Friedman told Smith that she could not, but he and another staffer would meet with her. Both spoke in raised voices and he turned his back on her to leave the conversation — and room — after she did not accept his repeated offer.

He turned around to get a pass key out of his backpack, and Smith was within a couple of feet of him “yelling” that she wanted to meet with the supervisor, not staffers (to serve a subpoena, apparently).

“Did you say, ‘Go away from me, I’m scared?’” she asked Friedman, a young man well more than 6 feet tall. “No, I did not,” he said.

He and about 10 others — perhaps including those who filed declarations against Smith — received training recently regarding how to de-escalate a situation and dealing with difficult individuals. He had not received any such training before, though he’s been with the county since at least 2008.

How the idea for a restraining order came about is unclear, as Tuttle said she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to answer that. “Multiple people raised concerns,” she said.

Duffy testified that he was approached with the idea and volunteered to be included. He and the others said they were uncomfortable when they heard Smith was in the building and experienced some kind of fear or concern during specific one-on-one encounters with her.

The county has successfully quashed Smith’s subpoenas ordering board chairwoman and Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf and Marshall to appear in court.

Further testimony will be presented in a week, when the restraining order issue is expected to be resolved.

In the meantime, Smith has been banned from the entire administration building since the matter was filed in April, county counsel Dennis Marshall has said. Direct phone calls and e-mails seeking the four people is not allowed, but since most of them are receptionists, calls to the office and the accidental contact is allowed, Tuttle said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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