October 17, 2012 in Idaho

Libel defense: Blog remark question, not accusation

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Defending herself against a libel suit, Linda Cook of Rathdrum says an anonymous comment she made earlier this year on a Spokesman-Review blog was a question about the accounting of GOP funds in Kootenai County, not an allegation of theft.

Cook, who is representing herself, filed her court response Tuesday to the suit brought by Tina Jacobson, who also lives in Rathdrum and is former chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republican Party.

Cook wrote in her defense that she has proof Jacobson failed to provide annual budget and financial statements to members of the county’s Republican Central Committee. Jacobson failed to provide receipts or details of funds deposited or expenditures as mandated by committee bylaws, Cook argued.

And that, she wrote, is what prompted her to post comments Feb. 14 under the name “almostinnocentbystander” on the Huckleberries Online blog.

She first posted: “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.”

Almost two hours later Cook posted a response to a comment someone had left on her original post asking for more detail: “@Phaed - the treasury has gone a little light and Mistress Tina is not allowing the treasurer report to go into the minutes (which seems common practice). Let me rephrase that … 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 …”

Dave Oliveria, who administers the blog for The Spokesman-Review, deleted both comments about 2½ hours after they were posted.

Cook revealed her identity in July after a judge ordered The Spokesman-Review to disclose who had posted the comments on the blog.

In her suit, Jacobson claims she was “offended and embarrassed” by Cook’s blog comments. She argued that Cook’s statements on the blog impeached her honesty, integrity and reputation, and therefore are libelous.

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

Cook, who was an aide to the late Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage, argues in her defense that Jacobson, as a public figure, must prove Cook’s comments were false before she can recover damages.

Jacobson’s suit also alleges Cook is in breach of contract for refusing to abide by an agreement to settle the claims against her. That agreement, according to an Aug. 14 letter from Jacobson’s attorney, Matthew Andersen, included a public apology, a $4,000 donation to a Coeur d’Alene clinic that provides alternatives to abortion, and an invitation to co-author with Jacobson an opinion piece on civil discourse in the political process.

Cook denies she ever agreed to settle the case. She said she met with Jacobson and that Jacobson “stated a set of terms and conditions that were totally unacceptable” to her.

Cook has asked for the suit to be dismissed, or for a trial by jury.

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