A SLO County jury found that the CalCoastNews website and its co-founders and reporters Karen Velie and Daniel Blackburn defamed a local businessman in a 2012 news story.
As part of the verdict, the jury found that the article, written by Velie and Blackburn, contained defamatory statements about Charles Tenborg and his ECO Solutions waste hauling company and that both reporters failed to exercise reasonable care in determining whether the statements they made in the article were false. The jury awarded Tenborg $1.1 million in damages.
“I feel vindicated,” a visibly emotional Tenborg told New Times shortly after the verdict. “We've righted the wrongs.”
The jury's $1.1 million award included $500,000 in punitive damages against Velie, whom a majority of the jury believed either knew or had doubts about the validity of the statements about Tenborg published in the article and acted with malice, according to their verdict.
The article at the heart of suit has remained available on CalCoastNews since it was published five years ago. James Wagstaffe, Tenborg's attorney, said he hoped the website would voluntarily take down the story in light of the jury's verdict, but said they would consider seeking a remedy through the courts if they did not.
“Someone's good name is built over a lifetime. It shouldn't be destroyed by a hit piece,” Wagstaffe said.
David Vogel, one of the attorneys representing CalCoastNews , said he was disappointed in the verdict. He noted that two of the sources Velie said she used to write the story had since died and could not be called as witnesses. Other witnesses, he said, were not able to testify.
Vogel did not specifically say if CalCoastNews planned to appeal the verdict.
“We will have to consider that,” Vogel said. ∆