Isla Vista landlord James Gelb pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge in a trial court Thursday for yelling homophobic slurs at I.V. official Ethan Bertrand in November.
The Del Playa Rentals proprietor’s arraignment had been delayed five times, but on Thursday his lawyers offered a not guilty plea after unsuccessfully arguing to have the case dismissed.
In a November incident captured on video, Gelb persistently called Bertrand a “fag” and made lewd references to anal sex after Bertrand had told Gelb he was unkind to his residents.
Bertrand, the president of the I.V. Community Services District, is openly gay. His friend recorded the video, which was shared widely on the internet.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley indicted Gelb on a misdemeanor charge of “disturbing the peace” in November. His arraignment was then delayed five times over a four-month span until Gelb’s representation pleaded not guilty on Thursday. Gelb was not present in court for the arraignment and has not appeared at any previous hearings.
Griselda Carreon, associate attorney for Lynn & O’Brien, LLP, argued in court to have the case dismissed, citing reasons that included Gelb’s right to free speech and the notion that the specific offensive language in question had not been specified by the prosecution.
Prosecutor Carl Barnes noted that other crimes, like battery, do not specify the precise nature of the harm committed. He pointed to the online video as a clear representation of the words used.
Superior Court Judge Raimundo Montes De Oca pointed out a line in the California penal code, which states, “offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction” can be designated as a crime against public peace.
Carreon argued the language was not likely to provoke violence, referring to Bertrand having told police that he had sought to de-escalate the situation and was a person who believed in nonviolence. She also said the video was “unauthenticated” and “may have been clipped.”
She said Bertrand and “his buddy” had “laughed, smirked and continued to taunt Mr. Gelb.”
Montes De Oca denied the demurrer, a request to dismiss the lawsuit, on the basis that the police report offered clear discovery of the crime Gelb was being accused of, as well as a shortage in facts that are necessary to compel a case dismissal.
Montes De Oca set a pre-trial conference date for June 4.
“It’s unfortunate to see the various excuses for horrible behavior that have come up during this process,” Bertrand told the Nexus in response to the notion that he had “taunted” Gelb. “But I continue to believe that people must be held accountable for their actions against the LGBTQ community.”
Bertrand, who has attended every hearing since Gelb’s first arraignment date, praised the “many community leaders” who have made statements in support of the LGBTQ+ community in the aftermath of the incident.
Gelb’s attorneys from Lynn & O’Brien have not responded to requests for comment. Barnes also declined to comment after the arraignment.
Correction: Bertrand used the word “unfortunate,” not “unfair.”