Slander case dropped after secret mutual agreement
Riley Baker dismisses suit against Mark and Debbie Reed with confidentiality clause
A $400,000 slander lawsuit filed against Debbie and Mark Reed of Scappoose has been dismissed after the Reeds and the plaintiff, Riley Baker, reached a mutual agreement to drop the case.
Baker, the son of former Columbia River People's Utility District Director Dave Baker, filed the tort claim in Columbia County Circuit Court last August following public comments Debbie Reed made during a PUD meeting last year, indicating Riley Baker visited the home of her elderly mother-in-law and intimidated her over a political sign on her property.
As a recall election was underway against PUD Director Craig Melton, Reed said Baker stopped by the woman's home and yelled at her over an anti-recall political sign in her yard. Reed alleged Baker made her mother-in-law feel intimidated and called Melton a "liar." Reed said later that day the sign was torn down without her mother-in-law's permission.
According to Baker's complaint, Debbie and Mark Reed, the latter a Scappoose city councilor, allegedly made similar remarks to former colleagues, coworkers and friends of theirs, perpetuating a rumor that Baker had harassed an elderly woman and torn down a sign from her yard, which is illegal.
At the time of the recall election, Baker had helped gather signatures to put the recall measure on a special election.
The Reeds opposed the recall efforts.
Baker later said he stopped by the home and talked to Mrs. Reed, but never said anything to intimidate or threaten her. He also claimed he had nothing to do with the sign being removed.
Baker filed suit, saying the Reeds' comments, which alleged Baker broke the law to advance a political agenda against Melton, constituted slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Baker also said the statements would negatively affect his plumbing business and demanded a public apology from the Reeds.
Video recorded testimony later showed Mrs. Reed denying the allegations made by Debbie Reed.
Lori DeDobbelaere, an attorney for the Reeds, countered, saying the testimony was hearsay and argued that Reed's statements were constitutionally protected because they pertained to an election.
"We argued that because what was said concerned how the recall election was being handled it should be protected speech under the 1st amendment of the US Constitution," DeDobbelaere stated via email. "The cases I cited state that some speech is so important to society that the courts are willing to protect it at all costs."
Last week, Michael Sahagian, the attorney for Baker, filed a notice with the court asking that a court hearing be canceled because the two parties had agreed to a "stipulated general judgment of dismissal with prejudice."
Sahagian said Baker and the Reeds agreed to a confidentiality clause, promising not to discuss details of the case or its dismissal.
DeDobbelaere also declined to talk about the case's dismissal.