The Civil Liberties Defense Center has sent a notice to Curry County commissioners announcing their intent to sue for $100,000 on behalf of resident Catherine Wiley, who claims a former county employee libeled her.
In the notice, attorney Lauren C. Regan of Eugene said former employee Shelia Megson “fabricated evidence of large travel expenses” Wiley incurred and for which the county reimbursed her. Megson is currently the spokeswoman for State Rep. David Brock Smith, a former Curry County commissioner.
The notice names four others — County Commissioner Court Boice, his wife, Britt, former Port of Brookings Harbor Manager Ted Fitzgerald and commissioner candidate Jan Barbas — who Wiley alleges further defamed her by placing and sharing that information on social media.
A defamatory statement is one that “would subject the plaintiff to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which the plaintiff is held, or excite adverse, derogatory or unpleasant feelings or opinions about the plaintiff.”
“Wiley is a politically-active resident of Curry County who exercised her First Amendment rights and has advocated for the instatement of a travel policy for county commissioners,” the notice reads. “In response to her advocacy … as well as her efforts to hold commissioners accountable under the travel policy.”
The tort claim alleges Andre Bay — currently a county commissioner candidate in the upcoming primary election next month — filed a public records request for documents listing expenses the county paid to Wiley.
The county gave him the paperwork, but included records of check deposits that showed Wiley’s bank account information.
“Using this information, Shelia Megson fabricated evidence of large travel expenses paid to Ms. Wiley by the county,” the notice continues, and then lists the other four as publishers of that information.
It was presented in a Curry County Board of Commissioners meeting and posted on Facebook with “the clear intent of the misinformation campaign was to discredit Ms. Wiley’s political advocacy by framing her as a hypocrite to the public. These statements were factually false and devised to subject Ms. Wiley to adverse, derogatory and unpleasant feelings and opinions sa a means of undermining her political advocacy.”
The tort claim further alleges county officials and agents made “defamatory statements” about Wiley when they “fabricated documents to show she had received large sums from Curry County as travel expenses … while also advocating for controls on county officials’ travel expenses.”
The statements were made public in a commissioner meeting, which was taped, and on Facebook, where numerous third parties commented.
The county meeting video, the notice points out, is available to the public, which further spreads the alleged libelous material.
Wiley is demanding the immediate retraction of the statements on social media and a public apology in the newspaper and online. Also, due to the publication of her bank account information, Wiley is demanding the defendants compensate her for professional services she needed to remove her information from public sources, attorney fees and $100,000 in damages.
“Our client has authorized us to engage in settlement discussions in lieu of litigation at this time,” the notice reads.
The current board of commissioners approved a restrictive travel policy last October that limits county commissioners to $1,500 a year of out-of-county travel each — in-county reimbursement is prohibited — and does not include travel for County Commissioner College or other trainings.
County Commissioner Court Boice adamantly voiced his opposition to the policy at the time, noting he believes Commissioner Tom Huxley crafted it because his predecessor, Smith, made frequent trips to Salem to meet with state elected officials on behalf of the county.
He was also opposed to the policy because it was initially retroactive, and would not have reimbursed him for fuel costs he incurred during the Chetco Bar Fire, when he often traveled from his home in Agness to Brookings to address the issue with fire officials.
Huxley said the policy needed to be put in place to save the county money by “encouraging the use of telephonic or electronic training and conferencing, the use of county cars for authorized in-state travel, disallow use of (county) cars for in-county travel and establishing limits for meals and lodging expense reimbursement,” the report reads.
The travel policy also has a per diem of $42 a day for out-of-county meals, and requires advance board approval — and three quotes and a detailed plan — for estimated hotel, car rental, meal and other expenses for each.
The sheriff and assessor’s office are precluded from much of the policy because of their need to drive many miles in the line of duty.