Mayor's defamation suit can go forward, court rules: Defense motion to dismiss denied; mayor granted restraining order.

The Shawano Leader/July 22, 2007
By Tim Ryan

Opening salvos were fired Friday in a civil suit pitting claims of free speech against allegations of libel, with Shawano Mayor Lorna Marquardt winning the first round in what could be a protracted legal battle.

Both sides faced off in a Shawano County courtroom for the first time since Marquardt and her husband, Donald, filed a personal suit against Kalmar Gronvall, a representative of the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology, Inc. (SIST).

The suit centers on a pamphlet referring to Marquardt as a racist and featuring doctored photos, one of which portrayed Marquardt as an orangutan.

Gronvall claimed credit for creating the pamphlet, titled "The Racist Lorna Marquardt," which was distributed at businesses owned by two SIST subsidiaries also named as defendants in the suit: Midwest Properties of Shawano, LLC, and Midwest Oil of Wisconsin, LLC.

The pamphlet material has also been posted on a web site, for which Gronvall also claims authorship.

At the motion hearing Friday, Gronvall's attorney, Rebecca Gietman, cast the proceedings as a constitutional battle. She claimed Marquardt was attempting to silence Gronvall's right to free speech and argued Marquardt's elected position makes her fair game.

"The mayor is a public figure," she said.

Gietman maintained the pamphlets expressed a satirical view of opinions held by Gronvall, describing Gronvall's writings as "humor" and "satire."

Marquardt's attorney, James Chereskin, noted references in the pamphlet claiming Marquardt controls the police, and calling her "a liar, bigot and a Nazi." He noted an additional pamphlet distributed last week referring to Marquardt as "the German Lutheran whose ancestors killed six million Jews."

"I don't think it's humorous," Chereskin told the court. "This is actionable defamation."

Gietman said, however, it doesn't matter whether Gronvall's statements are true.

"Whether it's true or not is irrelevant," Gietman said. "It's what Mr. Gronvall believes." Circuit Court Judge Thomas Grover expressed some skepticism when Gietman invoked freedom of the press and portrayed Gronvall as a reporter. Gronvall distributed two pamphlets last week bearing the banner of "The Midwest Times."

"We need a free press," Grover said. "But when someone takes it on themselves to call themselves a reporter and promote a line of thought, that's not a free press."

Grover denied a defense motion for a summary dismissal of the case, saying it was partly due to defense's failure to respond to a discovery motion from Marquardt's attorney.

Chereskin is seeking information about the operations of SIST and its subsidiaries to clarify Gronvall's position with those entities and possibly show their involvement in producing and distributing the pamphlets.

Gietman argued discovery should not be required if there is no merit to the case.

"There are no grounds here for a lawsuit," Gietman said. "Discovery would be harassment."

Grover disagreed, and said it would be premature to dismiss the case before there was an opportunity for discovery. He gave the defense 25 days to comply.

In another setback for the defense, Grover granted Marquardt a temporary injunction against Gronvall, intended to prevent him from creating any further defamatory material.

Chereskin also asked the court for a restraining order to be included in the injunction, saying Gronvall had harassed and intimidated Marquardt by repeatedly taking pictures of her during a recent tourism luncheon.

Gietman again invoked freedom of the press in arguing against the injunction.

"The mayor is complaining that at a public event she was photographed, and now needs a restraining order? (Gronvall) is a member of the press," she said.

Though the burden of the case will ultimately rest on Marquardt proving there was malice in Gronvall's actions, comments from Grover suggested the "freedom of the press" argument likely would not carry much weight in Gronvall's defense.

"He believes he has the absolute right to say anything he wants. That's absolutely not true," Grover said. "This is not freedom of the press. It has nothing to do with freedom of the press. This kind of conduct is tantamount to harassment."

Grover ordered Gronvall to keep at least 200 yards away from Marquardt and her husband.

"Today, they redefined freedom of speech," Gronvall said to reporters after the hearing. "I've just been telling the truth about what's been going on around Shawano for 32 years, and they don't like it."

Gietman did not say whether she and Gronvall would comply with the discovery motion or the injunction, instead telling reporters she planned to file an appeal.

"We'll see what the order says and we'll see what the appeals court says," Gietman said.

Asked for his response to that, Chereskin said the court orders were not something that can be appealed.

"They're in this for the long haul," he said.

Gronvall does not represent SIST

Shawano Leader/August 2, 2007

In stories published in the Friday, July 20, 2007 and Sunday, July 22, 2007 editions of the Shawano Leader, Kalmar G. Gronvall was incorrectly identified as a representative of the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology Inc. (SIST).

Gronvall is not a representative of SIST, according to the attorney defending Gronvall and SIST against a libel and defamation lawsuit filed by Shawano Mayor Lorna Marquardt and her husband Donald.

Gronvall resigned from SIST's board of directors on June 1, 2006, according to an affidavit he signed and filed in Shawano County Circuit Court on June 22, 2007. A copy of the resignation letter, along with minutes of a SIST meeting in which Gronvall's resignation was discussed, were part of Gronvall's affidavit.

The attorney, Rebecca L. Gietman of Kaukauna, noted Gronvall left the board before producing a booklet in September 2006 criticizing Mayor Marquardt, other local officials and the Shawano Leader.

The Leader regrets the error.

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