Update on Being Sued by our Local Right-Wing Newspaper

Hi Folks,
 
Happy Holidays and hope you’re enjoying the festivities of the season.
 
I was going to take a break from political activism for the holidays in order to focus on selling beer, but something happened last week that I can’t stop thinking about. 
 
I was deposed for my local newspaper’s defamation lawsuit against me, and this process was extremely painful and made me angry.
 
Here’s a little background for those of you just joining the conversation.
 
This lawsuit was filed over a year ago by Gregg Walker, the publisher of Minocqua’s local newspaper “The Lakeland Times.” He is suing me for calling him a “crook” and a “misogynist” after he published a hit piece against our county public health official for doing her job and trying to keep people safe during Covid.  He is also suing me because I wrote that the Times used the word “retarded” in a 7-year-old hit piece against another woman in a leadership role, our Chamber of Commerce director.  After realizing I made a mistake, and the actual word used in that misogynistic article was the similar-but-still disparaging term “idiotic,” I made a public retraction.
 
I've been told by many lawyers and law professors that this lawsuit against us “should” be un-winnable.  Not only do my words have to be demonstrably false (the first two are not), but he has to prove that I knew those words to be untrue but said them anyways out of malice (I didn’t). To top it off, he has to prove that these words caused specific financial damage to his business when the entire newspaper industry has been in a free-fall for over a decade.
 
Because this case SHOULD be un-winnable, it is characterized as a SLAPP suit, or “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” which is an “all-too-common tool for intimidating and silencing criticism through expensive, baseless legal proceedings.”
 
Most states have anti-SLAPP laws because it should be illegal for someone to use the judicial system as a weapon to weaken their enemies. But once again, our dysfunctional state, with a Republican legislature that only works a few months out of the year but gets paid over $50K for their “full-time” efforts, doesn’t protect against these bully tactics. To make matters worse, Gregg Walker again took advantage of Wisconsin’s dysfunction to file YET ANOTHER FRIVOLOUS DEFAMATION SUIT against us last month, hoping to bleed us even further.
 
In a perfect world, both of these cases SHOULD be dismissed, but the first one wasn’t, and because it wasn’t, we’ve become cynical as to whether we’re going to get a fair shake by the judge in deeply red Oneida County.
 
Wisconsin’s system of electing judges at the county level means judicial candidates need to find support within the two-party system to get elected, and in Oneida County that means our judges who run in technically non-partisan spring elections are nevertheless largely linked to the Republican Party, and rarely face opposition once elected.
 
Because the judge in our case probably hasn’t dealt with too many defamation cases in his career, and because he DID NOT dismiss this first lawsuit long ago, we believe his decision reeked of politics and was an unfair or uneducated application of justice.
 
My original lawyer, a friend of mine, felt really bad about not being able to get this case dismissed, so he recommended that I find a law firm with more experience in defamation and 1st amendment law to defend me.
 
This new firm was A LOT more expensive, so I went to the public to help raise money for my defense. Many of you, realizing this personal issue of mine had repercussions statewide because democracy and judicial integrity are hanging by a thread in Wisconsin, donated tens of thousands of dollars to Minocqua Brewing Company's Legal Defense Fund.
 
With your help, I was able to hire that firm, and they did a great job managing the lawsuit for a few months. One thing they also did was dig into the Minocqua Brewing Company’s insurance policy and help get my insurance company to pay for my defense, which meant this case was transferred to yet a third lawyer that now represents both me and my insurance company.
 
I didn’t tell the public that my insurance company was now paying for my defense because I wanted to keep Gregg Walker believing that he was bleeding me dry so that he’d keep on spending money on this case. But after being deposed last Wednesday, I now understand that this case isn’t JUST about bleeding the Minocqua Brewing Company.  It’s about using a conservative judge to force me to disclose information about my private life to a right-wing newspaper who can then use that information against me.
 
And that infuriates me.
 
But why do I think this?
 
Matt Fernholz, the lawyer for The Lakeland Times, is a Republican partner of a right-wing Republican law firm (Cramer, Multhauf, and Hammes) located in the center of Wisconsin’s Republican stronghold, Waukesha County.

(Matt Fernholz, Republican Partner in Right-Wing Law Firm Cramer, Multhauf, and Hammes out of Waukesha)

He was appointed by Republican Governor Scott Walker to serve on many boards and offices that direct legal policy in Wisconsin, and is arguably being groomed to run for higher office.
 
In the deposition, he asked me two questions that I thought had absolutely nothing to do with being sued for defamation:
 

  1. Who are the donors to your Super PAC, and how are you funding your defense?
  2. What was the name of the mother of your child (born out of wedlock)?

My attorney objected to Fernholz asking both of these questions, but in a deposition, you are still forced to answer any question asked of you or potentially face a contempt of court charge that can ultimately land you in jail.
 
Another wrinkle to this deposition is that Heather Holmes, the General Manager of the Lakeland Times, was allowed to be present during my testimony, which means a newspaper that has published many outrageous hit pieces against me and my business was allowed to hear deeply personal information about me.
 
Now, the answers to who my donors are and how we spend those donations are easily found in our quarterly FEC filings, so that was a dumb question. But the ANGLE Fernholz was taking was to somehow link this case to how I’ve funded my defense in order to get a favorable judge (which he has) to agree to force me to open up the books of both the Minocqua Brewing Company and my Super PAC.  Imagine the story a right-wing partisan rag with zero journalistic ethics could conjure up if they had access to my entire accounting history.
 
Now, by telling you about the second question Fernholz asked me, I understand that I just admitted to the world that I had a child out of wedlock. I’m ok with that, because I’m an adult who has moved on from this very painful episode that happened over 15 years ago, and am at the point in my life where discussing this issue won’t cause me too much pain. Hell, I lost my wife to cancer in 2018 and almost went bankrupt because of Covid right after that.  I’m pretty numb to pain these days.
 
But I’m extremely angry that these guys dragged a mother and child into this public fight for no reason other than to hurt me.
 
What happened in that deposition room should be illegal.
 
I’m no stranger to politics and KNOW that by having to provide the name of my son’s mother to a representative of a right-wing partisan newspaper who has demonstrated repeatedly that they want to hurt me, this part of my life that I’ve relegated to the cobwebs of my brain is bound to be used by them to try to hurt me, but even worse, they will drag the mother and child into a public fight that they have nothing to do with.
 
I’ll eventually write about having a son out of wedlock, of course protecting the identities of mother and son, because I feel I’ve been forced to provide the context to this story before it gets warped to the public by Gregg Walker and his goons. 
 
But that story deserves the space and time to tell it properly, and today’s story is long enough.
 
Let me remind you where we started here:
 
I’m being sued because I called Walker a “crook,” a “misogynist,” and falsely remembered that they published the word “retarded” instead of “idiotic” in a 7-year-old hit piece against our female Chamber of Commerce director.
 
That’s it! 
 
But now I’m being forced to essentially stand naked like a caged animal under a spotlight of harassing interrogation and spill my guts to a right-wing propaganda rag solely because Wisconsin doesn’t protect its citizens from SLAPP suits and because I’ve got a member of the Old Boys Network of Oneida County as a judge.

This must not stand, neither for me nor for anyone in this state, and that’s why I’ve decided to create the Minocqua Brewing Company LEGAL OFFENSE FUND.
 
I believe I’ll never get a fair shake in rural Northern Wisconsin, and that as long as I keep fighting to make Wisconsin more progressive, Republicans will keep using SLAPP suits to weaken me, my company, and my political activism.
 
I believe the only way to make this come to an end is to fight fire with fire, and to countersue Gregg Walker and the Lakeland Times for harassment and defamation, and also use that money to fund efforts to pass anti-SLAPP legislation and remove Republicans from office who stand in the way of protecting privacy for those not in the richest 2% of society.
 
Let’s see how Gregg Walker feels when we Dominion vs. Fox News him and sue in progressive Dane County, where he can't hide behind the Old Boys Network.
 
To donate, please go here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/mbclegaloffense#
 
I understand fully that many of you may think this is becoming a pissing match between two stubborn dudes, but please understand this all started when I called out a public paper for being dishonest about Covid and attacking a public health official for trying to protect us.
 
I don’t think these pissing matches are worth spending good money on that can be used to help progressives win elections, but I do feel that the entire Republican Party has got it in their heads that if they bully us long enough, we’ll capitulate because they’ve exhausted our resources or because we’re sensible adults and SOMEONE has to be the adult in the room.
 
Well, I can’t capitulate. I’m just not built that way. But I also can’t afford to endlessly defend myself, my company, and my Super PAC that helped elect Governor Evers from never-ending right-wing attacks.
 
So that’s why I’m asking you for help.  Please chip in if you want to help me stand up to a rogue right-wing newspaper in Northern Wisconsin, its right-wing law firm in Waukesha, and the toxic masculinity of the Republican Party that assumes that endless wealth gives them the right to harass, demean, and bully those who they don’t agree with.
 
Thanks for sticking with us. Together, we will stop Republican bullying in Wisconsin, one beer at a time.
 
Kirk Bangstad 
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC and Legal OFFENSE Fund