New Times San Luis Obispo

CalCoastNews makes argument for appeal of libel verdict

Chris McGuinness Mar 8, 2018 4:00 AM

Nearly one year after losing a high-profile libel lawsuit in SLO County, CalCoastNews filed its opening brief with the 2nd Distric Court of Appeal.

The opening brief, filed Feb. 26, asks the appellate court to reverse the lower court's judgment against reporter Dan Blackburn, and throw out the $1.1 million in total damages the jury leveled against him, reporter Karen Velie, and CalCoastNews in their entirety.

"We are feeling very good about our prospects," Paul J. Beard II, the attorney representing CalCoastNews, told New Times.

File Photo By Jayson Mellom
MAKING THEIR CASE CalCoastNews is asking a California appellate court to vacate $1.1 million in damages leveled against the website and its founders Karen Velie (above) and Dan Blackburn for authoring a defamatory article about a local businessman in 2012.

The verdict and damages stem from a 2012 article about Arroyo Grande waste management businessman Charles Tenborg bylined by both Blackburn and Velie. After a civil trial that ended in March 2017, a jury found that the story contained defamatory statements about Tenborg. CalCoastNews announced its intentions to appeal in May 2017.

The appellate brief argues that Blackburn was only responsible for writing a portion of the article, and that his portion did not contain any of the statements about Tenborg the jury found defamatory.

The brief also asked the court to throw out the $1.1 million in damages, claiming that the trial court gave jurors erroneous and prejudicial instructions.

"The entire process was poisoned by bad jury instructions," Beard said.

Alternately, the brief also asks the court to consider throwing out the $300,000 in presumed damages against Blackburn, and the $500,000 in punitive damages against Velie.

Tenborg's attorney has until March 28 to file a response.