Columns

The Fake News Legal Scam Complex

Tabloid

Decades from now, will people actually remember CalCoastNews for their reporting or their legal issues?

Most likely it will be the latter.

On Dec. 9, I broke the story about their co-founder Karen Velie refiling her lawsuit against District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill for the third time. The lawsuit was filed around the time her website announced a fundraiser for their “legal defense” fund. They’re raising money for an appeal against the defamation case they lost for $1.1 million. In promoting their fundraiser, they attack the person who successfully sued them by accusing him of perjury. They cite a report that hasn’t been made public; their claims cannot be independently verified.

Three months earlier, Velie tried filing a civil harassment order against me. At the time, Velie falsely accused me of personally harassing and stalking her. After Velie repeatedly perjured herself, the case was thrown out. This happened one year after she deposed me as a “witness” in her defamation suit. She abused the deposition process to question me over older posts bearing no relevance to her case. Then used the deposition and what she thought I said to write an article about me, falsely accusing public officials of being tied to my alleged “cyber-harassment” against her.

In her revised Nov. 17 complaint, Velie continues to falsely assert that I’m a “business associate” of Supervisor Hill, despite me repeatedly denying this under oath, in several statements on here and my deposition. I’ve read the declarations she sought for her case, but no one provided any hard evidence of a contractual business relationship. Why? There isn’t any.

This cavalcade of legal harassment is historic: no journalist or anyone claiming to be a journalist has used the courts under the guise of victimization to bully their critics. No other “journalist” has used the courts to attack their critics’ free speech in the name of free press. This is appalling yet frivolous. It’s appalling that critics are spending money and resources to defend themselves against someone who once drunkenly bragged about having attorneys working for her for free. It’s frivolous because her endeavors continue to be thrown out of court without consequence.

Chances are her newest filing will, once again, be dismissed.

Her lawsuit against Hill was never mentioned on their legal defense fund site, which now features a sparkling image of the American flag and a quote by Thomas Jefferson about the free press. Instead, the anonymously created site discusses raising money for an appeal previously dismissed for failure to submit an opening brief. Velie’s friend and attorney James Duenow made it sound like their appeal was a slam dunk, yet they’ve failed to present their case to appellate court for three months.

With a few notable exceptions, local news media haven’t acknowledged the extensive legal trouble CalCoastNews created. For years I’ve asked why that is. According to several print media journalists and television news broadcasters (I cannot name for obvious reasons), the answer is clear: they don’t want to be harassed by CalCoastNews. Some of them have been personally threatened with lawsuits by Velie for criticism. The irony is clear: our free press is concerned about being harassed by people claiming they’re protecting free press. They understandably want to avoid the seemingly endless legal entanglements.

CalCoastNews is not an institution worth raising money for. Harassment, threats and intimidation is what is being funded, not “quality investigative reporting.” Their “free press” label is shattered when they don’t want anyone else to be free. It’s hard to appreciate investigative reporting at the expense of freedom while claiming a moral high ground.

Now we live in a post-factual world where “fake news” dominates the media landscape, and members of the “fake news” industry are punishing anyone opining that their news is fake. I’m watching this happen in SLO County, in our own community, with profound disappointment.

Perhaps that disappointment will fade eventually. The passage of time will not reflect kindly on CalCoastNews, their writers, attorneys, financial backers and advertisers. As we keep learning, the fight is far from over. Yet the wars they continue to wage will further define a legacy already tarnished by their own trangressions, no one else’s.