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Anyone who has spent enough time on Twitter has probably looked at another account and thought, If only they’d stop tweeting. But few people head to the courthouse to try and do something about it.
Yet that is exactly what Josh Lopez decided to do last month when he unsuccessfully petitioned a judge to stop the person behind the popular Twitter account @DCHomos from posting about his involvement in an anti-Semitism scandal. In a truly novel request, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s longtime ally and political hatchet man even asked the D.C. Superior Court to order the account’s manager, José Romero, to publicly issue an apology.
During the primary campaign, most of Romero’s online ire was reserved for Salah Czapary, the former police officer who challenged Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. He spent the weeks leading up to the primary bashing his associations with Republicans, in particular. But Romero was also critical of Czapary’s association with Lopez, who marched alongside Czapary’s supporters in the Capital Pride Parade. Romero observed in a tweet that Lopez “held a megaphone (literally) while a speaker blasted Jewish DC Council-member Elissa Silverman as a ‘fake Jew’ and later referred to Jews as ‘termites,’” which is a fairly down-the-line description of the 2018 incident that led to Lopez’s resignation from his post on the D.C. Housing Authority’s governing board. Another tweet noted that Lopez was a “former city official who was involved in an anti-Semitism scandal in 2018.”
It’s not exactly unusual for folks in D.C. politics to bring up that particular brouhaha when Lopez’s name pops up, considering just how thoroughly it dominated the discourse at the time, but those tweets seem to have crossed a line for Lopez, one of Bowser’s most faithful supporters over the course of her political career.
“This intentional conduct is blatantly an attempt to bully Mr. Lopez and directly causes Mr. Lopez emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose, which has caused others to attack Mr. Lopez, who fears for his safety,” Lopez wrote in the June 13 complaint, requesting a temporary restraining order and injunction against Romero. “Repeated posts portraying Mr. Lopez as anti-Semitic, when he is not and never has been, and attempting to slander Mr. Lopez’s name, is not a protected right within the Constitution.”
In a move perhaps more confusing than his decision to file the suit in the first place, Lopez failed to show up for a preliminary hearing, so a judge dismissed his claim on June 28.
“For purely political reasons, my name continues to be wrongly and maliciously associated with bigotry,” Lopez writes in an email to LL. “It’s not lost on me that a story from four years ago is conveniently resurfaced during a campaign season. As this plays out legally, I will continue to explore every avenue to defend my name against statements I never made. I won’t be bullied into silence.”
Romero later tweeted about the whole affair, and he tells LL that it amounted to a confusing few days. He says he was served papers on June 27, even though Lopez filed the suit two weeks before that. Romero showed up to court after throwing together a brief response, but by the time he arrived the case was already dismissed.
“I absolutely would’ve loved to spill the tea to a 12-person jury, like he was asking for,” Romero says. “I just don’t understand why he says he feared for his safety. I’ve barely ever had any communication with him.”
The pair’s lone conversation came via private direct messages on Twitter shortly after Romero’s post about the pride parade, he says. Lopez reached out to tell him that it was “very disingenuous to portray me as anti-Semitic,” according to screenshots forwarded to LL. He noted that he “NEVER made any anti-Semitic statements” and said he would “appreciate if you would correct that statement and don’t associate me with that in the future.”
When Romero told him that “everything in my comments is from news articles” and that he should take his concerns to editors of those publications, Lopez lamented that it was “very sad you are attacking private citizens and a fellow Latino on misinformation.”
Shortly after that exchange, but before he filed the lawsuit, Romero says Lopez sent a letter to his employer (the law firm WilmerHale), drawing attention to his tweets. In the letter, Lopez made many of the same arguments that he would later make in court. Romero says he doesn’t actively hide his sexuality at work (and he’s spoken to media outlets before about his Twitter account), but he was still a bit disturbed that this letter outed him to higher-ups at the firm who didn’t know he is gay.
“These are people in other offices that I don’t deal with, so they certainly didn’t know I was gay or that I ran a gay account,” Romero says. “I took it as him and his attorney outing me.”
Romero says he’s not sure who represented Lopez in writing that letter (though LL would dearly love to know) because attorneys at his firm read its contents to him, but didn’t provide him with the entire document. But Romero said his bosses were generally supportive throughout the incident. Spokespeople for the firm didn’t respond to a request for comment.
News of the lawsuit only reached Romero a few days later, when he returned home from some work travel and he was finally served with papers. He’s glad that he didn’t end up in a long court battle over a few tweets (he works in IT for WilmerHale, so he’s not a lawyer himself), but it was an unsettling experience.
Romero can’t say he’s exactly surprised about the dustup either, considering the rest of his experience posting about the Ward 1 primary. He felt compelled to direct so much attention to Czapary, who is also gay, because of how strongly he disagreed with his policies on policing. Yet Romero is glad that campaign season has calmed down a bit now that June is in the rearview.
“As hard as I went in on [Czapary], I tried to keep things civil, or at least as civil as they could be,” Romero says. “But there were accounts on Twitter posting my home address, my work address, threats against me. You report them, but Twitter doesn’t do anything. A lot of people won’t post about this stuff because you get bombarded with hate.”