Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 2

Updated 47 weeks ago David Stone
Main Street WIRE Legal Attack Changes the Game, Part 2

“Please be further advised” reads Marc Jonas Block’s Cease and Desist letter, “that in the event you fail to comply with the demands stated herein, the WIRE has instructed the undersigned to commence litigation against you, as well as to obtain injunctive relief, consequential and punitive damages, and such other remedies as may be permitted by law.” 

How could we comply without agreeing with the WIRE’s accusations? 

Answer: We couldn’t.

When it Comes to the Main Street WIRE, You Never Really Know Who Your Friends Are

 Dick Lutz I’d known for ten years.

After running into each other at Starbucks, walking up Main Street, we talked about our mutual passion for writing novels, and then, he asked me what it would take for me to start writing for the WIRE.

Not much, really.

I’d been interested in newspaper writing since I was a teenager — not that I knew much of anything about it.

But I took his offer and began writing, mostly about local arts, and as Lutz brought me into news stories, I learned a ton about the craft. Dick’s a generous, well-informed teacher, if a little too thin-skinned and impatient.

We had disagreements, mainly over his rewriting my articles to fit a local political narrative, but he paid me well.

In late 2015, he started dropping hints about my taking over publishing and editing the WIRE. Briana Warsing, who he’d brought in to succeed him was leaving to join her husband in California, and there was some panic about finding a replacement.

After a few weeks of back and forth emails, we agreed on a plan in which he’d school me for six months, until June, 2016, when I’d become fully responsible for the paper.

Warsing had agreed to extend her stay at the helm until then.

“I’ll take care of Jack” (Resnick, the WIRE’s owner), Lutz promised.

Had I the least distrust in Lutz’s integrity, I’d have never agreed nor would I have brought in my wife, who’d be working on composition and art.

As for Resnick, I met with him a couple of times in his office to talk about the responsibilities and history of the WIRE, started by him and his first wife in the ‘80s.

We shared a couple of lunches at Fuji East. I liked spending time with a man who wasn’t just smart but deeply empathetic in his profession. 

Resnick and I never had a word of disagreement until he wrote, “David, We're not anywhere near an agreement on going forward. My discussions with you, Dick and Brianna (SIC),  have not been encouraging.”

Problem was, Dick and I had an agreement we’d been working under for months, and Resnick knew what it was.

Far less time was spent with Briana Warsing, but every minute of it before things blew up was pleasant. 

She walked me through a system devised to thoroughly proofread and edit the WIRE.

We shared an exit interview with outgoing RIOC President Charlene Indelicato.

The transition, with everyone in agreement and eager to keep the newspaper vibrant, should have been smooth, but it wasn’t.

Two years ago, when I first sat down with Lutz and, then, Resnick, to work out the details of taking over the WIRE, I couldn’t have guessed they'd end up suing me and me, them.

I’s never gotten a harsher reminder of something learned form Al Kooper when I was only 22.

“The Demands Stated Herein…”

What was it the WIRE, as represented by Marc Jonas Block, wanted me to do?

  • One: The e-mail list…

Cease and desist “Wholesale conversion of the distribution and e-mail list collected and developed by my client since approximately 1996 with the expenditure of effort and resources, which you improperly retained in April 2016.”

But calling the email list one “which you improperly retained” repeats a slander Lutz and Sherie Helstien have used many times to hurt me, my business and my reputation.

The list came straight from Lutz without conditions and has been used exactly as I said it would be.

The term “improper” is defamation, and it became contentious only after Lutz abandoned the agreement we’d been working under.  

I was wrong, it seems now, to let myself be slandered like that without taking legal action.

  • Two: Defamatory statements against the WIRE

Block’s demands include that I cease “Defamatory statements against the WIRE, both the entity and newspaper, as well as officers, directors and employees thereof.”

There’s an immediate problem because “Under common law, to constitute defamation, a claim must generally be false.” Emphasis added.

As an example, the WIRE’s attorney cites “False and unsubstantiated personal statements of “voluntarily aligned with racists,” “documented ties to racism and age and gender bias…”

But after we published an article, RIRA Common Council Steals Credit for Others' Work, a team of internet trolls (anonymous folks who post inflammatory comments attacking people or ideas they don’t like) jumped into the comment thread.

They didn’t criticize the article’s content, which was, after all, about the Common Council. Instead, they were incensed at my referring to the WIRE satirically as the Main Street Moms Bimonthly, a reference aimed at its narrowing and increasingly shallow content.

Firing back against satire is perfectly acceptable. 

The rest wasn’t.

The trolls soon migrated from defending the WIRE to attacking me, Frank Farance and Rick O’Connor because we were identified with exposing PS/IS 217’s rat colony.

Farance, O’Connor and I were “impotent old white men,” one wrote.

We were also misogynists, an accusation that played a big role later.

As I deleted their comments as fast as my fingers could fly on my iPhone, they started denouncing my advertisers, curiously mentioning women by name but using only the business name of men.

The women were “bitches,” and one was accused of misappropriating funds.

When I banned them for crossing every line of decency and respect for others, including racist taunts, “old white men,” derogatory references to age and, finally, referring to other women as “bitches,” they announced they were moving their attack over to the Roosevelt Islander blog because they thought they wouldn’t be deleted or blocked.

That they did, and it got worse.

Into this fray voluntarily entered WIRE Managing Editor Kelly Turner, replying to a comment by Frank Farance. 

It’s the only time she’s ever commented on a Disqus thread. Here it is, in full, emphasis added:

“Oh lordy. Someone sent me a link to this discussion thread thinking I'd be amused. But something has to be unexpected to be funny. In truth, Frank, I spend very little time in the "discussion" threads for the blogs. I don't find them to be very constructive and most research in online discourse bears that out. The medium tends to lock people into their positions more firmly. 

“And as to why we don't generally post comments to the blogs, it's because we don't need to. We have our own platform for communicating with the community. In the same way that David and Rick don't send us letters the editor--though they are welcome to. But they just post whatever they want to say on their blogs. 

“And as far as biases, we certainly all have them. David hates The WIRE and lets that flag fly freely whenever he can. You have a longstanding feud with Mandana and many of the other women on this Island, several of whom have sent you cease and desist letters over the years. I think it'd be silly to suggest that hasn't colored your view things. 

“Briana and I are happy to stand behind our reporting. And we encourage readers to contact us directly when they think we've gotten it wrong." 

Notice that Turner singles out the same three of us attacked by the racist trolls, and if there’s still any question of her aligning with them, then look at how she attacks a common enemy who has only responded to the trolls: 

“You (Frank Farance) have a longstanding feud with Mandana (PS/IS Principal Beckman) and many of the other women on this Island, several of whom have sent you cease and desist letters over the years.”

An opinion, sure, up to a point.

Except Farance had received only a single cease and desist letter, and that was recent and based on largely discredited details.

And as Farance replied, his complaints, as Roosevelt Island’s most active gadfly, are gender neutral. He goes after anyone he believes is hurting the community.

As a managing editor of a newspaper left in every local mailbox and is said to have studied journalism at U. C. Berkeley, you’d expect Turner to get her facts straight before posting such an accusation.

Or, at a minimum, make a correction once the mistake is exposed.

But wait, it gets worse.

Confronted with the falsity of what she wrote, Turner did not change, edit or delete the comment, although it's done easily, in the five months that have elapsed since.

Even when we published, When the Main Street WIRE’s Managing Editor Drove It Straight Into a Swamp, detailing what we still believe was her alignment with racists along with slandering Farance, just as the trolls had, no one from the WIRE, publicly or privately, protested or asked for a correction or a retraction.

Why shouldn’t we report on that? It’s news, and if we let it go without notice, wouldn’t readers take her accusation to be factual? 

And frankly, no one from the WIRE objected until advertisers began pulling out, putting it in fiscal jeopardy.

Which brings us to…

  • Three: Tortuous interference with the business of the WIRE

The dictionary definition of “tortuous” is “full of twists and turns.” I don’t believe that’s what Block means.

I believe he means “tortious interference,” an action that causes economic harm by disrupting a business relationship.

One basic element of such a claim is that the “interference is improper.”

But for reference, after detailing multiple errors published by the WIRE and especially an effort to damage the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, a local group struggling to survive, we believed it was the last straw. 

The attack on RIYP was riddled with misleading information, and after the newspaper, as always, refused to correct, we expressed this opinion:

“Since the WIRE, predictably, failed to correct multiple errors in its attempt to put the Roosevelt Island Youth Program out of business, adding to a recent history of standing by frauds, felons, rats and phony elections, we’re asking residents to recognize the newspaper’s advertisers as partners in less than admirable, community busting behaviors.

“Whatever you chose to do as a member of this community, we ask that you seriously consider what your money is being used to promote when you hand it over at these businesses.” 

We don’t believe that honest opinions are “improper” nor is asking the community to think about the kinds of things for which its money is being used.

To be clear:

  • Frauds: Supporting RISA, the organization which allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for seniors to be stolen and nor returned and never apologized
  • Felons: A nearly full page spread allowing Rema Townsend to excuse herself and trash others, which was never corrected after Townsend’s felony convictions 
  • Rats: Standing behind Mandana Beckman’s mismanagement that allowed rats to flourish at the school and migrate into neighboring housing complexes
  • Phony elections: RIOC nominating elections were promoted and published in the WIRE, although they abounded with misrepresentations and were never recognized by any authority

Quite apart from that, since there never was any falsehood, just opinions that the WIRE doesn't like, it’s protected free speech.

We stand by our right to criticize the Main Street WIRE, and its behavior. 

Donald Trump hasn’t crushed the First Amendment yet.

Where Does the Roosevelt Island Daily Go Now?

First, we've already contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. 

It’s unheard of for a newspaper that exists only because it’s protected by the First Amendment to try halting another’s equal right to freedom of speech and of the press.

Anticipating future aggression by the Main Street WIRE, we have no choice but to now take our evidence for civil fraud against Dick Lutz, Briana Warsing and, possibly, Jack Resnick to an attorney to see if a lawsuit makes sense.

We will also look at defamation by Lutz and Sherie Helstien, and we will reconsider theft of intellectual property, i.e., the term “Roosevelt Island Daily,” by Lutz and Warsing who used it to set up a phony webpage that redirected search traffic to the WIRE's website, immediately after I announced my startup.

Seeking legal help has never been our first choice, but we believed from the beginning that we had a strong case and have continued to suffer financially and personally.

We’re left with the conclusion that our reluctance to sue was taken as weakness and regret the WIRE’s escalating the conflict to a level where we seem to no longer have any other choice.

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