Libel lawsuit against Allen heads to Appeals Court
The quarter-million-dollar libel and defamation lawsuit against a Troutdale city councilor will be hashed out by the Oregon Court of Appeals — even as the case chugs forward simultaneously in front of a trial judge.
Multnomah County Judge Shelly Russell ruled at the bench in late April that pre-trial discovery can proceed in the case, which could require both sides and third parties to turn over more documents, emails and allow for the deposition of central figures.
At the same time, the Oregon Court of Appeals is considering a motion that could lead to the suit's dismissal.
It's been more than 500 days since Eastwinds Development sued Councilor Rich Allen and a small monthly newspaper, which published an article by the politician describing the company's negotiations with the city over a swath of land targeted for urban renewal.
"This kind of behavior can only hurt those that do a fair and honest business in our community," Allen concluded in his August 2016 article. The article also questioned the allegedly low appraisal value of the land the city was planning to sell to Eastwinds at that time.
Eastwinds claims the article tainted its reputation as unethical and subsequently hampered business dealings with the city. Allen's lawyers have mounted a spirited defense — portraying the suit as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
"This litigation arises from Plaintiff Eastwinds Development's attempts to silence its perceived political opponents," the defense lawyers wrote recently.
Using a legal maneuver known as the Anti-SLAPP, Allen's lawyers argued the case should be speedily dismissed. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Adrienne Nelson disagreed, denying the motion by the defense in May 2017.
In January, lawyers for Allen and faith-based newspaper, Northwest Community Connection took their case for dismissal to the Oregon Appeals Court in hopes of an answer they like better.
"In my experience, appellate courts can take a pretty long time," noted attorney Elizabeth Savage, who is representing the newspaper. "I've had it be like a year, a year and a half."
With the wheels turning for pre-trial discovery, Eastwinds is seeking to subpoena the communications between Allen and a number of politically active community members, including Paul Wilcox, Corey Brooks, Claude Cruz, Diane White, Eugenia Terzis and Mark Kelsey.
Eastwinds pressed for discovery to proceed, while Allen's lawyers said that issue should wait until a decision from the higher court.
Some might consider the long-running legal kerfuffle a moot point. Eastwinds Development no longer seeks to purchase the city's acreage encompassing a decommissioned sewage treatment plant located north of the Historic Columbia River Highway and east of Columbia Gorge Outlets.
Instead, the city is buying out Eastwinds' stake in the acreage, which includes a historic sheep rendering plant.
It appears that Eastwinds' legal team seeks to lay some of the blame for the reversal at Allen's feet.
"As a result (of the article), the urban renewal project was stalled and Eastwinds suffered financial and reputational injury," the lawyers wrote.