Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 1

Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 1

When an adversary triggers a legal attack against you, your first response is likely to be surprise or shock, but once that wave passes, changing your own approach may start to make sense. You want to fight back, stand tall — fairly and honestly, no matter what the other side does. That’s what we intend to do.

Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 1

As my family was ripped apart by divorce when I was kid, my father’s repeated threat to Mom was, “I’ll just take you to court!”

And he did. 

Mom panicked and fled, leaving five of us to grow up without her, a legacy that left scars that couldn’t heal, stretched across decades.

The details are personal and unimportant here, but what this ingrained in me was lifelong skepticism about the value of leaping into court-empowered offensives. 

Legal proceedings are cold, even bloodless, controlled by disinterested outsiders. Seeing lawsuits as last resorts and signs of personal weakness, I’ve never sued anyone.

That may have to change soon.

I’ve always believed that whatever damages I suffered, I was better off dealing with them personally, not handing responsibility over to somebody with a law degree.

Win or lose, you are unlikely to be better or wiser for it.

But then, when you’re backed into a corner…

How the Main Street WIRE’s Attack Changes the Game

When a deal for my wife and me to take over publishing and editing the Main Street WIRE came undone, it was painful and inexplicable. We can still only guess at what was going on behind the scenes in Rivercross.

But while we were never told the whole story about why publisher Dick Lutz, owner Jack Resnick and editor Briana Warsing suddenly backed away from the agreement under which we’d operated for months, we had — and still have — evidence that we were being played, at least by Lutz, much of the time, maybe even from the beginning.

Over dinner some nights, we still talk about the mystery of what that trio had to gain.

I was just about angry enough, after what I believed they did to us, to take my evidence to a lawyer and see if there was enough to sue Lutz, Warsing and possibly Resnick for fraud. 

But I started a competing newspaper instead, The Roosevelt Island Daily, fighting back legitimately and getting past the damages with action.

Then, the harassment and, eventually, defamation went out of control.

Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 1

Lutz ranted about my “stealing” a mailing list he voluntarily handed over and which I used for nothing more than what I told him I planned to do with it, that is, generate a routine of community alerts to residents, giving them quick, useful info.

He even sent out an email blast of his own, attacking me personally and ordering my readers to unsubscribe. To his chagrin, few bought his bitter appeal, even after I repeated the request, asking everyone I could reach to, please, unsubscribe if they did not want to receive alerts from The Daily.

So few unsubscribed, I knew my work was serving the purpose I intended, adding value to Islanders lives by getting timely information in front of them when they could use it best.

The WIRE’s First Escalation

I soon had good reason to question my initial decision to roll with the punches, essentially putting the bad experiences behind me without suing anyone.

Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 1

A friend whose charity I publicly support called to say he’d been accosted by Lutz’s friend and WIRE circulation manager Sherie Helstien and told the story about how I’d “stolen” that mailing list

What made it worse was that Helstien pulled him aside because she wanted to dissuade him from advertising in The Daily. 

And he wasn’t the last to be put through the wringer by her.

“We’re going to put him out of business,” she promised, according to my friend.

Then, she confronted him with, “You’re either with the community, or you’re against it.”

The community, that is, as defined by the Main Street WIRE family.

Helstien didn’t stop there. 

Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 1

Here, verbatim, in all its anger, scattered thought patterns and broken syntax is what she, as vice president of the organization, posted to all members of the RIRA Common Council:

“I want to VERY STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU/No one in RIRA, NOT USE THE RI DAILY.   Stone is a divisive and negative force and has an agenda against RIRA, if you’ve read any of his opinion articles.  If I were you, I’d steer clear of him and give him nothing, especially anything having to do with RIRA.  He cannot be trusted.  He is using an mail list he received under false pretenses of taking over the position of WIRE Editor, and then walking away from the agreed upon start date.  He did however, take an email list with him w/o permission to use…  I urge you NOT to ‘reward’ him with your business.”

Among Helstien’s barrage of insults was a naked accusation of my committing a crime.

That was on October 21st, last year, six months after our deal with Lutz and the Main Street WIRE fell apart. She’d been repeating that story during all that time, including large group threads, always in situations where she knew I had no chance to defend myself.

It was harmful to my business and my reputation. 

Sherie Helstien, file photo 2016
Sherie Helstien, file photo 2016
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

It was also untrue, and there was only one possible source for her misinformation.

I’ve come to wonder now, because I didn’t do it then, if I was wrong not to sue them for defamation immediately. If it was a mistake, I can correct it.

The Meat of the Main Street WIRE’s Complaint

The first demand in the WIRE’s Cease and Desist letter is that we discontinue using a mailing list that they claim was “improperly retained.” 

That’s confusing because it was transferred by Dick Lutz unconditionally.

On March 5th, 2016, I sent Lutz this message: “I’ve been meaning to ask about the mailing list you previously utilized to send information like this out to the community. It has stopped, and I would like to revive it.”

His verbatim response: “go to mailchimp.com sign up for an account it's free until you need to send more than one message in the same day (which I did when I transmitted a message with a bad error), then you'll need to upgrade to a $15/month schedule. (there are other, similar services that you may want to explore; if you attempt to send this many BCC using almost any regular mail service, you'll get tagged as a spammer) Attached are: The mailing list as it presently stands. You should be able to feed that right back to them as your list.” (Bolding added.)

There is no precondition or agreement involving the WIRE.

Less than two months later, I put my understanding of the financial details we’d agreed on for taking over publishing the WIRE in an email, asking for confirmation

I’d started feeling uncomfortable after Lutz twice instructed me to go to the bank with Resnick to apply for credit cards to be used by me in paying WIRE costs.

Only days before, Lutz resisted giving me the full financial details of the newspaper for which he asked me to take responsibility. So far, I’d only been told where half of the $6,000 in monthly revenue went.

And there was a small matter of at least $15,000 owed to Resnick.

Who expects a responsible person to take on that much responsibility without knowing all the facts?

Even while asking me to take out credit cards to begin covering WIRE expenses, Lutz told me it would take up to five weeks to come up with the details on where the other $3,000 per month was spent. Who does that so far into things and for what reason?

With both my wife and I now suspicious about what we weren’t being told, I emailed Lutz and Resnick outlining the financial understanding we’d been working under. I wanted assurance that I was not taking on more debt than the WIRE retained in receivables.

Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 1

In response, I got this shocking note back from Resnick: “David, We're not anywhere near an agreement on going forward. My discussions with you, Dick and Brianna (SIC),  have not been encouraging.”

How did Warsing, whose name Resnick could not even spell correctly, get involved?

Wasn’t her leaving for California at the end of June the primary factor in my taking over?

Line up the stacks of Bibles, I will swear on any number that was the first discouraging comment I got from anyone connected with the WIRE, other than resistance to my plan to go from doorknob delivery to direct mail, which ended up being exactly what they did anyway.

And no one ever told me that, as it turned out, Warsing planned to stay, a fact left out of the discussion when Lutz pushed me to start paying the bills.

I was flabbergasted. It hit me from out of the blue. I was so blown away, it was another three days before I got up the nerve to tell my wife, who was heartbroken, having been nearly as excited about managing the WIRE as I was.

I kept thinking there must be a mistake, a ridiculous misunderstanding. Lutz, Warsing or Resnick would get back to me with an explanation or a suggestion about how we could resolve whatever went wrong.

I waited. No call or other message ever came.

And we've still never been told what really happened.

 

Next: the WIRE’s accusations against us and why we must act to save our business and our reputations.

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