A lawyer hired by a handful of neighbors who want summer outdoor concerts at the Rocket Market shut down is trying to force a woman who set up a GoFundMe page to defend the market by paying its legal fees.
As of Friday afternoon, 160 people had donated $7,390 to the legal fund in the past six days. Kate Pogue Rau created the fund as part of an outpouring of public support for the market on social media after the lawsuit became public.
Attorney Jed Barden, who represents the seven people suing Rocket Market, accused Rau of making “defamatory” statements on the fundraising page. He is demanding she erase the page within 48 hours and refund the money.
Rau is not about to buckle.
“I absolutely did nothing wrong,” she said. “The part that I find most offensive is that I never received a copy of the cease and desist letter but he sent it to all the media. I think he is, quite frankly, trying to intimidate me.”
She noted that she did not name the seven people who filed the lawsuit, even though the lawsuit is a public document and their names have been included in media reports. “Everybody named them but me,” she said. “That’s the irony.”
In his cease and desist letter, Barden takes issue with statements on the GoFundMe page that read: “The plaintiffs are a very small number of neighbors (three households) who are demanding that they stop their live music series. These events take place twice a week, in the summer months only … The plaintiffs complain that the music is so loud that they cannot hear their televisions and are asking not only that the music series stop …”
In response to those statements on the GoFundMe site, Barden wrote: “If you recklessly disregarded the falsity of these material representations, you are potentially liable for fraud on a massive scale.”
The lawsuit demands that the Rocket Market be stopped from “conducting any activity, or encouraging or promoting an activity, that unreasonably and substantially interferes with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of their properties.”
When questioned about the language in the lawsuit, Barden said his clients are not trying to stop the concerts.
“You’re making a logical leap there that’s just not in the lawsuit,” he said. “The language is really important here. Nowhere in the complaint does it say ‘Stop the concerts.’ That is what is defamatory about the GoFundMe page. They just want the use and enjoyment of their property.”
Barden said if the Rocket Market agreed to have concerts without any microphones, that would be helpful. “That would be a very reasonable offer to my clients,” he said.
The lawsuit also includes complaints about people parking their cars in the street, litter in the neighborhood, noise created by delivery trucks and noise made by cars and “revving motorcycle engines.”
The statement that microphone-free concerts would be acceptable was news to Alan Shepherd, one of the owners of Rocket Market. “That’s not what their lawsuit says,” he said.
Currently, only the singers have microphones. No instruments are amplified, and drums are not allowed, but Shepherd said occasionally a microphone is used for an acoustic guitar.
Despite that, Shepherd said he would have rejected the request if it had been made. “There’s just no way we can do it without it,” he said. “People already complain that they can’t hear.”
Barden said that Rau’s post on the GoFundMe page makes fun of mental illness. He points to the line that states “they are asking for damages including psychological treatment!” The lawsuit does, in fact, seek reimbursement for “psychological treatment.”
Rau objects to Barden’s characterization. “That’s absurd,” she said. She said it is difficult to believe that unamplified music in their neighborhood for two hours twice a week in the evening until 9:30 p.m. has caused psychological damage.
Barden’s letter accuses Rau of committing fraud because “one of the largest insurance companies in the country, Liberty Mutual, is paying Rocket Market LLC’s defense costs.”
Shepherd said that is not the case. He has asked his insurance company to look into the matter, but no decision has been made.
He said Rau made the decision to collect donations on her own, but said he’s been told that if there is any money not needed for legal fees it will be donated to a college fund set up for the children of the late Isamu “Som” Jordan, a former Spokesman-Review music reporter who helped start the concert series at the market.
Rau said she had never met Shepherd or any of the other owners before establishing the GoFundMe page. Rather, she said she was motivated to help because she thought the lawsuit was frivolous.
“I have the right to disagree with it, and I have the right to start a GoFundMe page,” she said.
The concerts are free and need to continue, she said.
“I see people coming from all over the place to enjoy it,” she said. “This sort of thing is something the community needs more of, not less.”
People should not be donating money to support a “wealthy corporation” because by doing so they are supporting corporate power over freedom, Barden said.
“What the community really needs to do is stand behind the true victims in this case and that’s not happening,” he said.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.