If you read my story in today’s paper, you might have scratched your head reading the last three paragraphs. They’re about candidate Raj Salwan having threatened to sue at least two former customers who wrote negative reviews of his veterinary business on Yelp.
I pushed hard for this to be its own story in today’s paper. But the paper was concerned that it would appear that we were only targeting Salwan of the six candidates, so it was cut and tacked on at the end of a broader story.
I’m going to provide below some of the documents I have and explain why I thought the lawsuit threats were important to be in the paper before the council votes tonight. If you read just one of the documents below, I would recommend the first one on the left. But first a few things in defense of Salwan:
- Salwan has a clean record with the state veterinary board.
- Yelp has been criticized for its practices
- If the posts were inaccurate, Salwan’s only legal recourse was to sue the people making the comments. An attorney I spoke to said Yelp has no legal obligation to take down the comments.
- Salwan says he regrets threatening his former customers and that he now has “thicker skin.”
- Salwan never did sue them.
So why was I fighting so hard to get any of this in today’s paper? Let me list the reasons.
1) If Salwan is going to be on the City Council, he’ll face a lot of criticism. How Salwan deals with criticism is something the council should take into account in considering him for the job. What if Salwan is on the council, and someone wrote a letter to the editor about him in The Argus. Would he threaten to sue the letter writer? Would he threaten to sue the paper? How about an anonymous blog commenter?
2) In these instances, Salwan threatened to file lawsuits to silence people whose opinions he disagreed with. Would that be an appropriate action for council member?
3) This was not a single isolated instance three years ago. The first lawsuit threat I have documented below came directly from Salwan in 2007. The second one, written by his Virginia-based lawyer, came in July of 2009. If Salwan now says he was wrong to make the threats, it’s a very recent change of heart.
4) Salwan is not a small businessman who’s at risk of going under from bad Yelp reviews. According to county records, Salwan owns or co-owns 19 properties with a total assessed value of more than $15 million. He’s wealthy man. And if you get a letter from someone with his resources threatening to sue you, there is reason to feel intimidated.
So why now, the day of vote for the new council member?
I’ve been sitting on my Salwan file for more than a year. I didn’t write a story about the negative Yelp reviews because it would have been very difficult for me to determine their accuracy, just as it would have been very difficult for Salwan to prove they were libelous.
As for the letters threatening to sue his customers, as long as Salwan remained a relatively private citizen, I didn’t see the need to publish them.
But City Council is an important post. And once Salwan became a finalist for that job — and one of only three finalists to have the backing of all four council members — I thought this was important information for the people making the decision.
Had I had similar information about the other finalists, I would have printed that as well.
The documents are below. The first one on the left is Salwan’s letter threatening to sue a former customer. The next two are addressed to an elderly Hayward man offering to reimburse him medical costs if he took down his Yelp review. The Hayward man declined. The last three constitute a letter from Salwan’s attorney in Virginia threatening to sue a different former customer, who had posted negative reviews on Yelp.