Usually when you criticize an online tabloid for their lack of veracity, you don’t get deposed for it. But I was.
When I was deposed by CalCoastNews to testify as a “witness” in a defamation lawsuit filed against them, I knew they would ask me irrelevant questions. After all, though I continue to cover and analyze the case, I’m not involved in the lawsuit. Naturally, the deposition was bizarre from the beginning.
At my deposition, CalCoastNews co-founders Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn were present. Also present was their private investigator Mike Brennler, their attorneys David Vogel and Berndt Ingo Brauer. Counsel for plaintiff Charles Tenborg represented me for the deposition.
Most of the deposition questions revolved around my involvement with the predecessor to SLO Truth (Cal Coast Fraud) — many of which had no relevance to the case whatsoever. More than a hour’s worth of these questions could be boiled down to three simple ones: When did you start the organization? Why? Did anyone pay you to criticize CalCoastNews? I was asked about posts and articles I’ve written over two years ago and how many times I’ve spoken with people who were relevant to that content.
CalCoastNews has insinuated and alleged that I’m paid to criticize them despite issuing corrections. On the “Dave Congalton Show” (March 22, 2013), Velie claimed I was “hired” by District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill to criticize them. That was false. I documented her claim, my dismissal, and emailed her a correction that was left unacknowledged. In Feb. 2015, an anonymous Facebook account linked to Velie’s daughter, Summer Awbrey, claimed that Tribune columnist Tom Fulks gets me to “trash those he does not agree with through claims they are felons or deviates,” and that I’m also coordinating with PG&E to criticize them. In a rambling editorial from April this year, Blackburn insinuated that I began criticizing CalCoastNews after several anonymous ads — which he claimed were made by Fulks — were placed on Craigslist seeking to pay a blogger to “change public opinion” in SLO County.
At the deposition, their attorney asked if I was paid by any of these individuals to criticize CalCoastNews. I’ve given the same answer that I repeatedly and publicly provided: No.
Later I was asked questions about my opinions of Karen Velie’s mental state. Though I’ve initially deleted comments on my site from users that speculated about her mental issues, I couldn’t ignore that possibility.
I’ve deduced that Velie is mentally ill based on my personal and non-medical observations, including her relentless, all-consuming and self-blinding obsession to silence me and her critics; her history of delusional rants and emotional outbursts; repeatedly blaming other people for her personal lapses in judgment; her refusal to take responsibility for her stream of unsubstantiated allegations, which adversely impacted countless residents and families; and her stubborn and unjustifiable refusal to correct the record when uncontested facts are provided to her.
In 2013, Velie and CalCoastNews claimed her DUI arrest and her grandchildren being placed into Child Welfare Services was orchestrated by Hill, and she was unable to prove it. On her GoFundMe crowdfunding page, Velie claimed Hill “boasted in writing that he is pushing the lawsuit against CalCoastNews in an undisguised effort to destroy the eight-year-old online news agency,” yet Velie failed to furnish any writings.
I believe Karen Velie is mentally unfit, given she continues to push a conspiracy that she cannot prove exists — because it doesn’t exist. Her hyperventilating over my answers failed to convince me otherwise.
The deposition eventually reached the point of relevance when I was asked about the case. They asked questions that were framed to appear that I was colluding with Tenborg and his legal counsel to “destroy” or shut down their website. Once again, under oath, I could not give them the answers they wanted and confirm the delusions in their head.
On her GoFundMe page, Velie asked for help to raise money to depose a number of people to “help determine the facts in the case.” To the people who donated to her scam: You are all suckers.
If their goal was to implicate me as part of a vast conspiracy, they failed miserably.
It’s not a conspiracy that I reached out to people who were harassed and maligned by CalCoastNews. I was attacked too.
The deposition was one of many attempts by CalCoastNews to curtail my free speech, even though they allegedly defend free speech as members of the local ACLU. They won’t stop the harassment unless they’re shut down. If the defamation lawsuit succeeds in doing that, so be it.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the article stated that editor Bill Loving was present at the deposition. Loving was mistaken for former Atascadero mayor Mike Brennler, CalCoastNews’ private investigator.