On May 31, I posted a blog entry, "Libel," about the Dee Torres mess, i.e. Dee Torres had filed a libel lawsuit against Michael Brennler for alledged statements he made (part of an investigative piece published in CalCoastNews by CCN reporter Karen Velie) that Torres had stolen from homeless clients while director of homeless services for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), claims which Torres denies.
My May commentary observed that suing people for libel is always a tricky problem. First, because libel is really hard to prove since you've got to show real malice or intention to lie, and second, lawsuits open up huge cans of worms, such as depositions, wherein your opponent's lawyer gets to go fishing into your life and ask questions under oath that may cause you more problems than your original problem. (See what happened to Paula Deen, and shudder.)
Worse, what likely was a small footnote story unread by the vast majority of SLOTowners, with an added lawsuit, will now make the headlines in the Tribune and local TV news (wherein the original story wasn't deemed "important enough,") and kaBlooey, the falshood/libel/lie is now blown up into headline news and you become the talk of the town.
Wait, it now gets worse. Suppose the judge rules against your suit, claims you're a "public figure," says that you haven't proven that your bean-spilling whistle-blower acted with malice. Now you've got the public's attention and suddenly what was claimed to be a lie, now looks like it's true since the judge hasn't upheld your claims and quickly moved the case forward.
And if your un-luck holds, the same judge may dismiss the whole case and stick you with the bill.
And there you are. In the public eye (and from snatches of headlines) you're now branded a thief and a nincompoop and now you're broke (all those court costs and legal fees.) And if that's not enough, your nemesis, the reporter who covered this story, is now publishing phone texts by your fiance, who's a county Supervisor, that can be read like he's threatening a witness against you, one of your former boyfriends??. OMG!
If you've been following CCN and now the Tribune, you'll recognize the players in this little scenario as CAPSLO Director, Dee Torres, Supervisor Adam Hill, private investigator, Mike Brennler. Add in Judge La Barbera, who has written a tentative ruling that Dee Torres is a "public figure," which bumps the provable "libel" threshold over the moon, and you have one of those cases where everyone wishes they'd all stayed home.
Until the federal and/or state law enforcement folks finish their investigations, something that should have been allowed to play out before anyone opened their yaps.
Well, no mistake, this case is a gift that keeps on giving, especially since it involves Adam Hill (who has had "yap" problems in the past), and now reporter Karen Velie gets into the act. She was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. In a CCN story by Josh Friedman and Daniel Blackburn, Velie had been teaching a bridge class (filled with respectable, bridge-playing SLOTowners), some of whom told CCN that she looked fine, did not appear to be under the influence. But when stopped by Officer Josh Walsh for an unsafe lane change, was given a blood alcohol test. Which arrest pushed the case back into controversy since Velie's blood alcohol was .06 and drunk driving laws require an arrest if a driver has a .08. So Officer Walsh's discretionary judgement as to impairment/arrest requirement/guidelines now enters the game.
As does Adam Hill. According the the CCN story, immediately after the arrest, Adam sent text messages to all CalCoastNews advertisers informing them of the arrest. Thereby begging the question: What reason would a Supervisor have for such an action? Clearly he was trying to discredit Velie. But was he also trying to influence (muscle) CCN's advertisers into dropping their ads? Is that something a Supervisor should be doing to a news organization that's just doing its job? Or was that all part of Hill's campaign to malign the messenger rather than deal with the message? And does the immediacy of Hill's foolish action in contacting CCN's advertisers now play right into the hands of conspiracy theorists (on chat web sites) that Hill set this whole thing up, thereby casting doubt on the integrity of Officer Walsh and raising real questions about Supervisor Hill . . . once again?
So here we are, back in StupidVille.
Do you think it would be too much to ask that everyone involved in this ridiculous mess finally keep their yaps shut, let their lawyers handle this, and let the investigations by the proper authorities finish their jobs and go from there?
I have no doubt Karen has learned a hard lesson as well. Investigative reporters, if they're doing their job right, are always in a state of war and are always dealing with potentially dangerous people. There is a reason Woodward met Deep Throat at night in a secret parking garage. If you poke powerful people with sharp pointy sticks, you damned well better become like Caesar's Wife -- not only above suspicion in all things but to be seen to be above suspicion. That means document everything you do, have plenty of witnesses, put everything you can in writing, keep really good notes, live a dull and prudent life, avoid sticky situations and dicey people (unless you're on the job) and stick to Twinnings Irish Tea at all times.
As for Adam Hill? Hopeless. Only thing to do there is wait for the implosion. Or I should say explosion, like the kind you get when a can of beans is subjected to high heat and goes ker-blooey! in an utterly loud and satisfying manner. Beans everywhere.