Last Tuesday, a man by the name of Chip Thoma filed a lawsuit against Governor Palin over an alleged “traffic conspiracy.” Yes, you read that right… If you’re thinking this sounds like some sort of ridiculous frivolous complaint, you would be correct. Mr. Thoma isn’t new to Governor Palin, nor is he new to filing frivolous claims against Alaskan Governors. However, you wouldn’t know much about this case if you got all of your news from the Associated Press.
Becky Bohrer, the AP writer who covered the story, not only posted her story with an embarrassing grammatical error, but she also omitted key details from her report. She wrote:
An activist is suing Sarah Palin for at least $100,000, claiming she undertook a campaign to “punish, embarrass, discredit and silence” him while she was Alaska’s governor.
Palin’s attorney, John Tiemessen, called the complaint frivolous and said it was filed “merely for the purpose of harassment.”
“The governor’s actions and statements regarding this matter are a matter of public record and governed by the long standing doctrine of executive immunity from tort claims,” he said in an email late Friday. “Like all of the other harassing complaints against the governor, we anticipate that Mr. Thoma’s will be quickly and summarily dismissed.”
Thoma’s attorney, James McGowan, said Thoma complained about tour bus traffic on the narrow, windy [sic] streets around the governor’s mansion. McGowan said Thoma, whom he described as a “Palin fan” at the time, sent tour operators fliers to try to encourage them to change the routes. He said Thoma also helped neighbors create yard signs against what Thoma considered the noise, pollution and congestion caused by the buses.
I think Chip Thoma was as much of a “Palin fan” as I am an Obama supporter. Of course, I’m not sure what Mr. Thoma’s voting eligibility status is after his cocaine conviction and receiving numerous DWI’s.
This all started back in May of 2009, when Chip Thoma started publicly protesting tourists visiting Juneau and the buses that drove them around the city. He claimed that Governor Palin attracted “voyeurism” due to her “notoriety,” in an interview he gave to the Anchorage Daily News shortly after he sent letters to tour bus operators and started placing signs that read “Stop Local Tours” around the area of the governor’s mansion. Palin offered to meet with Thoma to see if they could work something out, but he declined the meeting. She then delivered a written statement in which she welcomed the tourists and said she “can’t imagine other areas of Alaska looking at having the Governor’s house nearby as a degrading irritation that invites voyeurism.”
The current complaint from Thoma was filed as an intentional tort, meaning that he believes she caused him some sort of harm by speaking about his efforts to curb tourism to the city. Governor Palin was completely within the bounds of the law, and also her duty, to speak publicly about someone who was attacking one the state’s largest industries.
As Palin’s attorney stated in the AP article, this case will be thrown out, just as the case Chip Thoma filed against former Alaska Governor, Walter Hickel in 1997. The case of Thoma vs. Hickel is a key detail left out of Becky Bohrer’s report. Considering the complaint is of the same nature, and directed at the same seat of government, one would think this would be a relevant item to the current story.
Walter Hickel was accused of engaging in a “smear campaign” against Chip Thoma after Thoma began a recall effort against the governor. The Sierra Club joined Mr. Thoma in his effort to get Governor Hickel out of office. When Hickel’s office wrote the Sierra Club asking them why would they align themselves with a convicted felon and a serial drunk driver, Thoma cried foul over the disclosure of such information. Everything Hickel’s office stated in their letter was a matter of public record. And as was the case in 2009, “under Alaska law, public officials in the executive departments of government have either absolute or qualified immunity from tort suits.” The court ruled against Thoma in this case stating:
The court holds in Part II that Hickel is entitled to qualified immunity from this suit because Thoma failed to assert a valid claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, concluding that a 1983 claim does not reach retaliation by speech because imposition of §?1983 liability would have a chilling effect on expression protected by the First Amendment.
The court concludes that imposition of 1983 liability on a public official who “responds in kind” to protected speech critical of the official would not be consistent with the First Amendment:
Making public officials civilly liable for retaliatory speech would, in essence, convert the First Amendment model of an interchange into a one-way street. As we believe this would be fundamentally inconsistent with the values protected by the First Amendment, we conclude that no valid claim of retaliation has been asserted by Thoma.
Not only did Wally Hickel win the verdict, he was also awarded $77,865.50 in attorney’s fees. You would think that Chip Thoma would have learned his lesson on tort laws during his experience with Governor Hickel, but it’s clear that he did not. He clearly found an attorney who is willing to take his case on against Governor Palin, perhaps someone seeking some “notoriety” of their own.
Americans are sick of these sort of frivolous cases that so abuse our justice system. These things cost taxpayers money and place an unnecessary burden on to the public. We are equally tired of the shoddy reporting from the likes of the Associated Press. When they aren’t distorting and spinning facts to fit their world-view, they are disregarding key elements in stories such as this. Whether their lackluster performance at their duties are ideologically driven, or rooted in old-fashion laziness, is hard to say. The silver-lining here is that while we may be fed up with the current state of journalism, we also have other sources for information gathering available to us. Use your search engines wisely.