CCN set to battle pernicious lawsuit

October 25, 2016

silenceBy CalCoastNews staff

CalCoastNews is preparing to defend itself against a claim of libel in a trial now set for next month in a San Luis Obispo County courtroom. A Northern California journalist predicts the outcome “may determine the fate of CalCoastNews’ eight-year-long experiment to offer local news coverage amid a trend of shrinking news staff among traditional media outlets.”

Veteran investigative journalist and former UCLA and Cornell faculty member Lewis Perdue wrote last month on CCN’s GoFundMe site that “after reviewing CCN’s articles and other documents, including many from the court case, this libel action appears to be designed to silence CCN.”

CalCoastNews has raised nearly half of a $25,000 goal for legal cost assistance through a GoFundMe appeal. Now, CalCoastNews needs help to pay for witness fees and other discovery expenses.

The lawsuit has been brought by Charles K. Tenborg, whose company, Eco Solutions, contracted with the county’s Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) to oversee the local household hazardous waste facilities.

In 2012, CalCoastNews published an article focusing on the alleged illegal transportation of hazardous waste by Tenborg’s company. The article was the first in a planned series; further reporting was silenced by the lawsuit.

The article was based, in part, on interviews with state investigators and employees at both the Cold Canyon landfill, and at the county’s household hazardous waste facility.

Problems were reported on state registrations, transporters driver’s licenses, and Eco Solutions transportation of PG&E transformer vault waste and other waste from other producers. Those wastes were transported in unlabeled barrels, then dumped over a hillside in an area of seasonal storm runoff, several sources said.

Aaron Wynn, a worker for Tenborg, said he had concerns for the health and welfare of those living near the IWMA facility because of the dumping of waste in fields, rather than at the dump or at a hazardous waste facility. Wynn later videotaped and then reported the dumping of PG&E transformer vault debris to the operator of the Cold Canyon Landfill.

Tenborg was then ordered to remediate the PG&E waste. Transformer vault waste must be tested and then either transported to a hazardous waste facility, or to a specially-lined portion of a landfill, according to a Regional Water Quality Control Board staffer.

Following is one of multiple videos Wynn shot while working at the IWMA’s household hazardous waste facility. This video was posted on YouTube shortly after Wynn died from a gun shot wound, determined to be a suicide.

Tenborg claims the CalCoastNews article damaged his reputation. However, following the article, Tenborg sold his client list, including his contracts with the IWMA and PG&E, and his company’s goodwill, for $1.3 million.

With a vigorous defense, it is likely CalCoastNews will prevail in this case.

IWMA’s former board president and SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill and several online commenters who he promotes have repeatedly harassed and threatened CalCoastNews’ advertisers, which has impacted the news site’s ability to fight the lawsuit in what appears to be an undisguised effort to destroy the eight-year-old online news agency.

After CCN launched its GoFundMe drive earlier this year, Hill and several of the online posters he promotes asked people not to donate to the effort. One of those posters, Bill Leys, donated $5 to the CCN legal defense fund, thereby allowing him to post his comment, reprinted here verbatim:

“I put in five (dollars) since that’s the minimum amount,” Leys wrote. “Definitely worth it for this chance! Here’s my 2 cents (which is all I wanted to chip in.) Put your daughter to work on BackPage. That should bring in $50 a night from ten Mexicans. Beg for forgiveness or just suck his dick… . If all else fails, shoot yourself and use the insurance money.”

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Last evening I learned CCN had lost their lawsuit by a jury, in a trial lasting nearly a week.

To say I was surprised would be an understatement, but having my own dealings with the court in cases where the media is involved, I really am not that dismayed, for once someone has any dealings with the justice system they would say as I do, which is :

“the only people who have any faith in our judicial system are only those who have failed to have any dealings with it”.

I am not going to use a broad brush and paint the whole justice system completely corrupt, for that would be unfair, but in cases where litigants are without financial resources, or in the case where independent news organizations are involved, all that can be said is, “good luck”.

It’s a proven fact those journalist who are real watch dogs for the people are the ones who are vilified, accused of being untruthful, or out for sensationalism.

In the news business there are what is known as embedded journalist.

Those are the ones who ask no questions and follow their marching orders, otherwise they’re not counted as members of the flock and avoided at all cost.

Not knowing all the facts of this instant case I can’t allude to it’s many facets, however the little I do know I can say unequivocally a great injustice was done to a news organization manned by some great and reputable journalist who have worked tirelessly in bringing information to the public they would not have otherwise received by the other embedded news outlets.

Allow me to relate a personal incident I had if I may.

There was a person running for the position of county Sheriff who I took his campaign pictures and was well acquainted with.

He had asked me to keep my ear to the ground and let him know what was being said out in the public.

When I talked with the head of the Sheriffs Association and told they were not going to back this person.

When I related this, the person told me, and I quote, ” what do I care what those S.O.B’s. do, I can nullify any votes they muster against me by going to a senior mobile home park and get 250 votes”

It would of been an altogether different outcome if he had asked me to find out what it was that was causing them to say that, I which I would have, but I could not be associated and faded out of the picture.

Not long after that I was given a packed of information from an officer of a police department containing information regarding this person running for sheriff.

Because I was not an investigative reporter and really knew of none at that time, other than reporters at the TRB, I handed the information over to one of their reporters.

Was a few months after that I ran into the person who was running for sheriff, and when I said hello he said, “I know what you did, I have friends at the Telegram Tribune”.

Had a case where I brought a lawsuit against a SLOPED Officer for ripping me from the driver’s compartment of my news car when working for KCOY T.V. while trying to get to a fatal traffic accident and being detained at a road block.

The officer after ripping me from the driver’s compartment ruptured the disc in my neck and injured my left arm which I had to have operations on and placed on disability.

When I questioned the officer why KSBY was being allowed on the scene and we weren’t he said,”this is their territory, they live here”, When I asked about our first amendment rights he got into my face while tapping on his badge saying,”the hell with your first amendment, I wear the badge and I make the law”.

“I was given a citation for disobeying an officer and when I returned to the station I asked the station manager how they were going to handle it.

The manager said, you get a speeding ticket, that’s you’re problem”. Right, but I was there at your direction” he then replied, here’s how it works, we have to maintain our relations with the community and the police, end of conversation.”

Here’s where it gets interesting.

I was unable to find any attorneys to go up against the fraternity of the police, so I filed my lawsuit in proper, meaning I was representing myself. In the last minuet an attorney comes to my rescue.

We are now in trial and low and behold testifying are three police officers and the reporter that was with me.

All three got on the witness stand, raised their right hand to God and swore to tell the truth when in fact there was only the one officer on the scene at the time of the incident.

I related how we were being detained at a roadblock to my news director on the microphone of the radio when the officer grabbed the mic from my hand and instructed my news director to tell your reporter to obey his order or I was going to be arrested. When the news director question the officer, he threw the microphone back throw the car window, when I reached down to pick it up is when the officer open the driver’s door and ripped me out of the car.

The reporter and I had to write written statements of the incident, which I had the reporters copy.

When she got on the stand and was asked if she ever saw the officer do as I had claimed, she said no. Then was asked how it was I exited the car, she said “Rich open the door and got out”.

I told this attorney who was suppose to be helping me to have her read her written statement aloud, when she did, the whole courtroom gasped audibly.I knew right then and there I had my case won.

The other two officer were also backing the lie, yet no mention of committing perjury was ever mentioned by the presiding judge or brought up by my attorney during closing arguments.

The jury diliberated for ten minutes, came back and found against me.

I learned later the attorney that came to help me was in fact a public defender.

Of course my appeal was rejected by the judge whose name I will mention, Richard Kirkpatrick.

To see the injustice that was done to Cal Coast News is of course a hurtful loss to them, but even a much bigger and more painful loss is to the community and those who depend on honest and fair news reporting.

Wow. What a nasty little man, with a nasty mouth! Someone needs to get the bar of Ivory soap out and start scrubbing. Next time do everyone a big favor, and keep your $5.00 AND your opinions in your pocket, pal. The world doesn’t need another bully. Peace out….