A local news blog entangled in a lengthy and expensive libel lawsuit has turned to the internet to raise money for legal expenses.
CalCoastNews rolled out a campaign to raise $25,000 on gofundme.com, a popular crowdfunding website, on July 14. According to a statement on the blog’s GoFundMe page, the money will be used to help pay for efforts to fight the ongoing lawsuit levied against it by Charles Tenborg, a local businessman who was the subject of one of the website’s stories in 2012.
As of July 20, the campaign had 86 donors who contributed more than $8,000.
Tenborg slapped the website with a lawsuit after the publication of the story that accused him and his hazardous waste management company, Arroyo Grande-based Eco Solutions Inc., of illegally transporting waste material and said that Tenborg encouraged public agencies to ignore state law while he worked as a contractor for San Luis Obispo County’s Waste Management Authority. Tenborg and his attorney claimed the article was “false and highly damaging.” CalCoastNews tried to get the lawsuit thrown out, claiming it was an effort to stifle its reporting, but that attempt was denied by an appellate court in July 2015.
According to the site’s GoFundMe page, CalCoastNews needs the money to help prepare its defense, which will include taking depositions and testimony from seven to 10 individuals.
“Depositions cost money,” the statement read. “They require the services of court reporters. The record of the testimony in the deposition also has to be paid for before we can get a copy.”
According to the same statement, the attorneys representing CalCoastNews during the lawsuit have been either pro-bono or for “pocket money.” One of the site’s founders, Dan Blackburn, acknowledged that the drawn-out legal battle with Tenborg had affected some of the website’s operations.
“CalCoastNews was preparing the second in a series on this matter when the lawsuit was filed, halting our reporting,” Blackburn said in an email response to questions from New Times. “So, yes, it has had an impact.”
Currently, the case is scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 7. Tenborg’s attorney, Kevin Clune, told New Times his client was eager to get to the trial and clear his name.
“[Tenborg] is interested in repairing his reputation from the irresponsible reporting CalCoastNews did,” Clune said.
Clune also said that both Blackburn and fellow CalCoastNews founder and reporter Karen Velie had already been deposed and expressed confidence in the case going to trial.
“They had no valid basis for allegations in the article,” Clune said. The statement on CalCoastNews’ GoFundMe page also accused SLO County 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill, a frequent subject of the website’s stories, of “pushing” Tenborg’s lawsuit. In an email to New Times, Hill denied the allegations.
“As you know, [Velie] is now raising money for her legal defense through GoFundMe and doing so by using me,” Hill wrote.