Arguing that the jurors who levied a $1.1 million libel judgment against them last month should have been able to take into consideration their lack of money, two online news writers are challenging what they call the “excessive damages” and asking a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge for a new trial.
Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn, current owner and former co-owner of the website CalCoastNews.com, filed a motion in court Friday for a new trial, challenging the $300,000 in damages for pain and suffering, $300,000 for loss of future revenue and $500,000 in punitive damages awarded to Charles Tenborg.
On March 16, the pair lost a $1.1 million libel verdict brought against them by Tenborg, the former owner of a now-closed Arroyo Grande waste management company. In a 2012 article, Velie and Blackburn accused Tenborg and the head of the county’s Integrated Waste Management Authority of violating several laws related to transportation, licensing and public bidding.
In an attached stipulation to the motion for new trial, Velie and Blackburn attorney David Vogel challenged two jury instructions issued by Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera. One contested instruction addressed how jurors should consider whether statements in the article were libel, and the other instructed jurors not to consider Velie and Blackburn’s finances when determining damages.
Vogel declined to comment Monday. James Wagstaffe, Tenborg’s attorney, dismissed the motion, adding that LaBarbera issued the jury instruction after Velie failed to provide the court with detailed financial records for herself or the website.
“Judge LaBarbera conducted a very fair and even-handed trial,” Wagstaffe said. “We believe the motion for a new trial has no merit.”
LaBarbera will hear the matter at a May 11 hearing, the same day Velie and Blackburn are due in court for a judgment debtor’s examination.