Colorado Pols Regular Gets “SLAPPed”


Pete Kolbenschlag.

We’re obliged to bring to our readers’ attention a distressing situation affecting one of our longtime readers and guest bloggers, Paonia-based environmental activist Pete Kolbenschlag. For years, Kolbenschlag has provided our community with insightful commentary on energy and conservation issues affecting Colorado’s energy-rich Western Slope.

But as the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported this week, Kolbenschlag has been hit with what’s known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) by energy company SG Interests over comments he made on an online news story:

Pete Kolbenschlag says the suit brought by SG Interests against him is unfounded and an attempt to silence him. He has raised more than $10,000 from more than 150 donors in just four days in an ongoing crowd-funding effort to pay for his defense.

SG Interests sued Kolbenschlag Feb. 21 in district court in Delta County over a comment he posted on the Glenwood Springs Post Independent website about a Nov. 28 article in that newspaper. The article said SGI planned to sue the federal government over the Bureau of Land Management’s cancellation of 18 SGI leases in the Thompson Divide southwest of Glenwood Springs, based on evidence of alleged collusion between the Obama administration and environmentalists to reach a predetermined political conclusion.

SGI proceeded with suing over the lease cancellations on Feb. 10.

The company says Kolbenschlag falsely stated in response to the Nov. 28 article that while SGI alleges collusion, “let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding … to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers.”

And as Webb continues, Kolbenschlag appears to be right:

Kolbenschlag’s comments were a reference to allegations by the Justice Department that SGI and Gunnison Energy Corp. colluded in acquiring four leases covering some 3,500 acres in the Ragged Mountain area of Delta and Gunnison counties. The companies agreed in 2013 to pay a combined amount of more than $1 million to settle a civil antitrust action and alleged violations of the False Claims Act in the case. [Pols emphasis] Neither company admitted wrongdoing.

The fact that the companies settled without admitting wrongdoing appears to be the basis for the libel claim by SG Interests, which strikes us as extremely dubious–if not legally than certainly morally. Moreover, there’s no reason to believe that a comment on an online news story of a small-town paper would be injurious to this large energy company. The tactic of large companies filing libel or other such civil suits against individual critics is deeply controversial even with far nastier subject matter.

We can’t forget that this is the same SG Interests who Rep. Scott Tipton admitted to letting directly author large portions of legislation he introduced addressing the conflict over drilling in the Thompson Divide area:

In an interview, Tipton confirmed its origin, and documents obtained by The Denver Post show that Tipton’s draft legislation duplicates — word for word — entire sections of the proposal offered by SG Interests.

Writing at this blog and elsewhere, Kolbenschlag has been highly critical of SG Interests, their large donations to Tipton, and Tipton’s role as a vehicle for their desired policies. We’d say it’s likely that the comment Kolbenschlag is not anything close to the most serious allegation he has made about the company–it’s just the one they decided they could sue over.

With all of this in mind, we hope our readers will head over to Kolbenschlag’s legal defense fund page and consider helping him out as he readies for his David vs. Goliath legal battle. As of this writing, the page is up to $16,175. Legal defense isn’t cheap, and nobody has deep pockets like the energy biz.

Good luck to Mr. Kolbenschlag, and thanks again for all the great posts.

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22 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    I've known Pete for many years and am distressed at this fake and phony litigation. I don't do crowd-funding pages, but did mail him a check last week. I encourage others here to also support him, even if you're a Republican like me. 

    • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

      I got to know Pete working on the Roan Plateau effort. Pete is an essential part of the foundation of environmental activism in western Colorado. He has been getting it done for a long time. 

      We can expect more and more of this as the Bannon government spreads through American industry and they begin to assimilate the mindset of Celebrity Apprentice and the tactics of Vladimir Putin. The first stage is to intimidate, discredit, and generally diminish the loudest, most effective voices of their opponents…"enemies" in the minds of many of them.

      They will be ratcheting this up…  

       

       

       

  2. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Contributing. Thanks, Pete. Illegitimi non carborundum, and all that.

  3. Andrew Carnegie says:

    Reading the article tells me the suit against him is well founded.

    Seems like zealots throwing good money away.

    If a company settles a civil law suit without admitting wrongdoing, how is that "actually fined for colluding . . . to rig bid prices".  He accused them of committing a crime.  His evidence is they settled a civil suit without admitting liability.  

    Seems like libel per se to me.

    • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

      Your opinion surprises us how? I'll bet you think this non-admission of guilt meant the same thing? 

      Seems like bullshit per se to me. 

      • Andrew Carnegie says:

        My opinion is based on having an understanding of the law, not the politics of an environmentalist who stated something that was not true and which is actionable. If either Pols or you had any idea what the law of libel and slander was you would not treat this as a political issue.  It is a legal one.

        The only thing Kolbenschlag has going for him is that idiots on this site will donate to his defense. He is liable for libel.  Fortunately for him the damages will be relatively small.  If anyone has any common sense, he will admit liability by filing an offer in judgment for something like $10,000, which will essentially calls the bluff and this goes away.

        I suspect the company would be satisfied with Kolbenschlag admitting they did not commit the crime he accused them of in the same forum he made it. He would lose face, eat some justified humble pie, and that would be it.

  4. ohwilleke says:

    What would make you think that there is any plausible possibility in the world that Kolbenschlag would be found liable for defamation on these facts?

    He's made a statement on a matter of public interest that has a factual basis. New York Times v. Sullivan is satisfied. There is absolute no way in heck that a judge is even going to let the case go to trial or enter a verdict for SGI.

    The only real questions are:

    1. Will it be tossed on a motion to dismiss (with automatic attorneys'  fees for Kolbenschlag) or a motion for summary judgment (with discretionary attorneys' fees for Kolbenschlag on groundless-frivolous-vexatious grounds)?

    2. If he prevails on a motion for summary judgment, will attorneys' fees be awarded or just costs?

    3. Will Kolbenschlag bring a countersuit for abuse of process? Will he bother pursuing it if he prevails on the merits of the claims against him? 

    4. Will SGI (the client) be the only one sanctioned, or will be their attorneys be sanctioned as well?

    The only upside of this for SGI is that its reputation was already so deeply soiled before it even brought suit that the fact that it is bringing a manifestly baseless lawsuit probably won't tarnish its reputation any further.

    I'm curious to know which lawyer is stupid enough to represent SGI in this matter (although perhaps it is a loyalty test like the ones that Trump puts his people through when they are forced to parrot absurd lies). Well, the answer is:

    William E. Zimsky, Atty. Reg.#: 25318 Abadie & Schill PC 555 Rivergate Lane, Suite B4-180 Durango, CO 81301 Phone Number: (970) 385-4401 FAX Number: (970) 385-4901 E-mail: bill@abadieschill.com

    Interesting that they chose to sue in state court despite the existence of diversity jurisdiction. Perhaps they felt they couldn't justify a claim that $75,000+ was in controversy.

    Judging from the Complaint and Exhibits to the Complaint (which I shelled out $10 to see and will happily share via email), I think a motion to dismiss result is more likely, because what the Complaint fails to mention, but the exhibit containing the alleged defamatory statement (Exhibit B) to the Complaint does show, that in the comment on the website, in addition to the alleged defamatory statement, Pete sources a Department of Justice website link to a press release announcing that it is suing SGI for anti-trust violations related to leases to support his allegation. 

    A statement, even if hyperbole, that is based upon a disclosed source, pretty much per se satisfies the NYT v. Sullivan standard on its face.

    I'd be surprised if the case isn't dismissed in three months or less with an award of attorneys' fees against SGI.

    • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

      The chair from which CornHole pontificates seems to be missing some all of its legs. 

    • Andrew Carnegie says:

      O

      You state there is no liability because he made a statement on a matter of public interest that has a factual basis.

      What is the factual basis for the statement “let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding … to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers.” ?

      He is essentially charging SGI with having been convicted of a crime for which they were fined.  Claiming people committed a crime involving moral turpitude, when they did not, is libel per se.  How else can you read fined for colluding to rig bid prices?

      If he wrote they were charged with . . . I might agree with you. Writing they were fined for something which is criminal, is entirely different.

      • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

        Come on, ohwilleke, do want us to believe you are an actual attorney? Not just playing one?

        Our troll seems unimpressed with your legal analysis.  I do, however, think we can treat his suggestion 

         If anyone has any common sense, he will admit liability by filing an offer in judgment for something like $10,000, which will essentially calls the bluff and this goes away.

        as a trial balloon by those who provide him with daily talking points. One might conclude (without admitting any guilt) that his suggestion wasn't an accident, but more spoon-fed

         

        • VoyageurVoyageur says:

          I remember a libel suit at the Denver Post that cost us $500,000 to defend even though it was thrown out on summary judgment.  Though PK is substantially true and won't pay damages, the incorrect characterization may mean the suit isn't frivolous and he won't get his legal costs paid.  These people want to intimidate critics more than collect damages.

  5. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    Unfortunately, Andrew, you're in the wrong as occurs so often. The merits of the SG case, based on what I've read to date, are lacking. If you are indeed a "conservative," perhaps you should CONSERVE your breath and not show your lack of knowledge in this type of case.

    And, no, I'm not an idiot for contributing to Mr. Kolbenschlag's defense. Unlike you, I've known him for years; since 1999 to be exact; and feel very confident that he is in the right, so to speak.

  6. PKolbenschlag says:

    Here is a good summary of the case.

    Oil Company SG Interests Files Vexatious SLAPP Suit Over Substantially True Facebook Comment

    Warning to AC: It's got big words. 

    • Andrew Carnegie says:

      Substantially true is not the test.

      You claim someone has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and it is not true you are on the hook, libel per se.  

      Common law libel 101.  Pretty simple stuff.

      There is a discussion in this Colorado Supreme Court decision:

      http://law.justia.com/cases/colorado/supreme-court/2002/01sc386-0.html

      PK, Be all you can be. Read.

      • Conserv. Head Banger says:

        As I read the linked court case; with its overview of false light, defamation, privacy; it actually appears to support Mr. Kolbenschlag's position. I don't see that his commentary damaged SG's reputation in the community, unless one takes the interesting position that a corporation is a person in more ways than donating money (SCOTUS in Citizens United case). A big difference between the Bueno case and the Kolbenschlag case is that the Buenos sued over a front page expose in the old Rocky Mountain News. There is a difference between printing something that reached hundreds of thousands of persons vs. an online post that perhaps reached a few hundred. 

      • VoyageurVoyageur says:

        Substantial truth is indeed the test.  If we report that Ac sexually molested a turtle while wearing a blue tie and he subsequently pleads to turtle molestation while wearing a green tie, the test of truth has been substantially met.  

  7. MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

    I'm guessing our little snowflake doesn't think these guys or these guys were guilty of anything, either, because they didn't admit it.  

    This legal mechanism is the way the monied class fleeces the system.  As long as their 'fine' is less than the revenue created by their schemes, it's all good. In fact, it's encouraged

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