October 2, 2012 in Idaho

Kootenai County GOP official presses defamation suit

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A Republican Party official in Kootenai County is pressing ahead with her defamation suit against a woman who posted online comments about missing GOP funds.

Tina Jacobson, a Rathdrum resident and the former chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republican Party, has named Linda Cook in her suit over comments Cook made anonymously on The Spokesman-Review’s Huckleberries Online blog.

In an amended filing Monday, Jacobson’s lawyer alleges that Cook also is in breach of contract for refusing to abide by an agreement to settle the claims against her. That agreement included a public apology and a donation of an undisclosed sum to a charity, according to the complaint prepared by Coeur d’Alene attorney Matthew Andersen.

The suit does not name The Spokesman-Review or blog administrator Dave Oliveria, but it does allege that Oliveria conspired to obstruct the identification of Cook as author of the blog comments, leading Jacobson to pursue legal action to get the name.

Jacobson claims she was “offended and embarrassed” by Cook’s blog comments, which asked if $10,000 allegedly missing from the Kootenai County GOP coffers were “stuffed inside Tina’s blouse.”

Jacobson is seeking a judgment of at least $10,000.

Cook, who’s active in Kootenai County politics and was an aide to the late Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage, declined today to go into detail about claims in the suit and said she does not have an attorney.

“In the proper setting, which is now the court, I am more than prepared to vigorously defend myself,” she said. Regarding the breach of contract claim, Cook added, “That is going to be a matter of strenuous contention.”

Cook previously said her comments on the blog were based on information she’d heard from a party board member. “At the time that I said it, I was convinced that it was not false, and it certainly wasn’t said with malice,” she said when she revealed her identity.

Andersen was unavailable today to take a call seeking comment, his office said.

Using the name “almostinnocentbystander,” Cook posted comments Feb. 14 about the alleged missing money and Jacobson’s role in the party leadership. She revealed her identity in July after a judge ordered The Spokesman-Review to disclose who had posted the comments on the blog.

Jacobson argues that Cook’s statements on the blog impeach her honesty, integrity and reputation, and therefore are libelous. The suit further contends that Spokesman-Review employee Dave Oliveria, who administers Huckleberries, acknowledged the statements were libelous when he removed them from the blog, explaining they amounted to “an unsubstantiated accusation made against a local Republican official.”

A followup post by Oliveria a few days later reinforced the false nature of Cook’s statement, the suit alleges, when he stated he had been in contact with “almostinnocentbystander” and the commenter acknowledged the statement was baseless, derogatory and unsubstantiated.

The suit also contends that Oliveria coached Cook on how she should conduct herself in the face of the alleged defamation, including not making known his email exchanges with her.

Without identifying a defendant by name, Jacobson sued in April and subpoenaed The Spokesman-Review to reveal information that could be used to identify “almostinnocentbystander.” Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Patrick Luster ordered the newspaper on July 10 to reveal the information as well as any correspondence between the commenter and the newspaper.

The suit alleges that Cook and Oliveria “conspired to obstruct Ms. Cook’s identification,” requiring Jacobson to file “a Jane and John Doe suit to protect her interests.” And that, the suit claims, “all lead to an unnecessary and costly legal action.”

Cook’s first comment was: “Is that the missing $10,000 from Kootenai County Central Committee funds actually stuffed inside Tina’s blouse??? Let’s not try to find out.”

She commented again: “A whole boat load of money is missing and Tina won’t let anyone see the books. Doesn’t she make her living as a bookkeeper? Did you just see where Idaho is high on the list for embezzlement? Not that any of that is related or anything…”

Oliveria deleted both about 2½ hours after they were posted.


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