An Inland Empire weed activist who sued after he was falsely accused of shoving a pot opponent won his case in court Oct. 17, though the jury declined to award him any of the nearly $1 million in punitive damages he sought.

Jurors in West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga awarded $5,000 in damages to Lanny Swedlow, a marijuana proponent active in the area. Swedlow sued after he was accused of battery on Paul Chabot, a drug warrior who hosted a gathering of the Coalition for a Drug Free California in Rancho Cucamonga in 2007.

Swedlow tried to enter the event so he could listen to the presentations and distribute pro-cannabis literature. But Chabot barred him at the door despite the fact it was a public gathering.Gavel (2)

Chabot accused Swedlow of refusing to open a box he carried with him – a box that, as it turned out, carried literature about medical marijuana. After the confrontation, Chabot claimed Swedlow assaulted him.

Swedlow was arrested on those charges but was ultimately acquitted. The jury foreman in the civil case said she and her fellow jurors didn’t believe Chabot’s claim of battery any more than the jurors in the criminal case.

“None of us thought there was a shove,” said foreman Deborah Clow. The incident “was blown out of proportion.”

Following his acquittal, Swedlow sued Chabot, seeking damages for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The jury awarded him $5,000 in actual damages on the false arrest claim, but declined to award anything on the malicious prosecution claim. And jurors didn’t return any punitive award, though Swedlow sought $1 million.

“They didn’t feel there was any malice or whatever,” Swedlow said. “It would have been nice to have seen some extra money.”

Chabot had countersued, claiming the shoving incident was real and seeking damages for battery. The jury ruled against him and declined to award him attorney’s fees. Chabot said he might appeal – and might sue Swedlow again.

“I’m considering appealing the one ruling on battery,” Chabot said. “I’m more interested in exploring a slander suit against Mr. Swerdlow and others for ongoing hateful speech towards me and (I will donate) the winnings to keeping kids off of drugs.”

The lawsuit is only one example of the fierce battles between pro- and anti-marijuana forces in California. They have played out in the Legislature, in the ballot box, in police stations and in courtrooms across the state. The fights often seem more furious, and more bitter, than those in other parts of the country.

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