Vandersloot Sues Mother Jones in State Court

As was widely anticipated, news broke that Frank and Belinda Vandersloot, together with Melaleuca, Inc. filed suit for defamation regarding a February, 2012 article which Plaintiffs allege depicted them as "gay bashing". Apparently Plaintiffs are confining their claims to Mother Jones and the individual writers and editors. But for context you need to read the Salon piece (first link above) by Glenn Greenwald. Idaho Agenda has some background links and my pieces on the subject are here, here, here,and here. So far I've not heard of any Defendants outside of Mother Jones.

The action is filed in Bonneville County, in the seventh judicial district for the State of Idaho and caps the damage claim at $74,999, despite Vandersloot's assertion in the press that Plaintiffs lost millions. Vandersloot asserts that: “It’s not about (money). It’s about clearing my reputation.” Questionable, but clearly Vandersloot likes his chances in state court in Idaho Falls rather than risking have it removed to federal court and a less friendly venue. $75,000 just happens to be the required amount in controversy which must be pleaded in order to remove a case to federal court for diversity jurisdiction. The pleaded amount was no accident. Vandersloot doesn't want the case anywhere but Idaho Falls.

The jury pool in Idaho Falls is a stacked deck for Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs reside there, employ thousands in call centers, are name throwing philanthropists, routinely buy full page ads in the region's largest newspaper,and finance multiple causes sympathetic to the right wing politics of the area. When pitted in a court room against the liberal Mother Jones, Defendants will have an uphill battle, or as the legal profession puts it, they'll be home towned. Just as significant is a sympathetic judiciary. Vandersloot's history is set forth in this well sourced Wiki entry:

VanderSloot has generally been a major donor to Idaho Republicans,according to Popkey, who described him as the state's "most boisterous conservative financier” and by America Online’s Eamon Murphy, who called him "perhaps the single most influential campaign donor" in the state of Idaho.

VanderSloot spent more than $100,000 on independent advertising on three winning judicial campaigns, two for Idaho Supreme Court and one for district judge in Bonneville County. VanderSloot and Melaleuca were financial supporters of the PAC Concerned Citizens for Family Values. The PAC ran ads targeting incumbent Idaho Supreme Court Justice Cathy Silak during her 2000 re-election campaign against challenger Daniel T. Eismann. The ads alleged that if Silak were re-elected, same-sex marriage and "partial-birth abortion" could have become legal in Idaho.

In 2002, VanderSloot and Melaleuca contributed more than $50,000 opposing the election bid of Democrat Keith Roark, a former Blaine County prosecutor, for Idaho Attorney General. The contributions included a $35,000 donation to Roark’s Republican opponent, Lawrence Wasden, and a $16,500 donation to Concerned Citizens for Family Values, an organization run by VanderSloot, to pay for attack ads against Roark in Eastern Idaho. That year, VanderSloot and Melaleuca also donated $7,000 towards Republican Dirk Kempthorne’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

In 2006 VanderSloot and his wife Belinda donated nearly $16,000 through the PAC Citizens for Truth and Justice, and via direct payments for ads opposing the reelection of Idaho 7th District Court Judge James Herndon, a Democrat, in a three-way race against challengers Darren Simpson and DaLon Esplin. Ads criticizing Herndon also aired on radio stations run by Riverbend Communications, owned by VanderSloot and his wife Belinda.

In 2010 VanderSloot funded two PACs that launched last-minute ads against Idaho 2nd District Judge John Bradbury, a Democrat, during his electoral run for state Supreme Court against Republican incumbent Justice Roger Burdick. VanderSloot donated $19,000 to the PAC Idaho Citizens for Justice and financed the PAC Citizens for Commonsense Solutions. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced that the PACs were fined $1,900 collectively for failing to appoint a certified treasurer prior to accepting contributions from VanderSloot and for failing to disclose large expenditures for its ads before the election, as required by law.

Citations omitted. There is not a judge, lawyer or legislator in the state that isn't intimidated by the Plaintiffs.

While Vandersloot is quite pleased with his chances in state court, he didn't bother to avail himself of the local attorney talent. Three out-of-state attorneys filed pro hac vice documents with the Court seeking permission to litigate this one matter in Idaho state courts. One of these attorneys is Thomas A. Clare, P.C. with Washington DC firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP. He's a heavy hitter in defamation cases "and routinely advises corporations and prominent individuals who are the subject of false statements by the media and newsgathering torts." His site states that he is the attorney representing Shirley Sherrod in the defamation action against prominent blogger and blowhard Andrew Breitbart and his website. Vandersloot might be right it's not about the money, he has plenty of money. This looks to be more about power, control and intimidation.

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About diversity

A little legal jargon irony there. I see Wikipedia says the amount must exceed $75k, is that so? Frank would be leaving a dollar on the table, seems unbefitting.

Could MJ argue that V is underclaiming, and press for diversity? We have V's statement that he's lost "millions," which, sure, is unsubstantiated hyperbole (until proven otherwise), but can the defendant successfully argue against the legal game without stipulating the allegation is proved?

A better tactic

No he's capped at the amount pleaded. He can't ask the jury for more. I think the better move would be to determine whether an applicable counterclaim is available preferably one based upon a federal statute which would provide the court with federal subject matter jurisdiction. If it allowed for money damages you could also plead in excess of $75K in the counterclaim, providing both diversity and subject matter jurisdiction. Then it's bye bye Idaho.