GMP, Coriell, Deny All Allegations Raised In Braithwaite’s Lawsuit

2/7/2013 8:20:00 AM

Jennifer Hersey Cleveland
Staff Writer

NEWPORT CITY — Green Mountain Power and David Coriell deny all allegations raised by the Chronicle and its publisher Chris Braithwaite in a lawsuit filed in Orleans Superior Court-Civil Division.

In the defendants’ answer to the complaint, filed by attorneys R. Jeffrey Behm and Jon T. Alexander, they argue that they never directed the response of law enforcement to Braithwaite’s alleged trespass on GMP-controlled property where it was building an industrial wind facility on Lowell Mountain.

The defendants also deny that Braithwaite was acting as journalist covering a protest when he was arrested for trespassing on Dec. 5, 2011, and they deny that Braithwaite was there with permission from GMP.

GMP also denies that it concealed any information, and asks the court to dismiss the suit and award the defendants’ legal costs and fees.

The state dismissed the criminal trespassing charge against Braithwaite a year – and $22,530 in legal fees – later after internal GMP e-mails, obtained by defense subpoena, indicated that the company had overtly instructed Coriell, point man on the mountain, that no journalists were to be arrested for covering the protests.

But Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker opposed the dismissal with prejudice, writing that the e-mails alone were insufficient to destroy the state’s case.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen later dismissed the charge with prejudice, preventing the state from re-filing the charge at a later date.

“Nothing in the State’s response to the Motion explains how it could resurrect this prosecution in the face of the GMP memoranda, revealed at the eleventh and a half hour to both the Defense and the State,” VanBenthuysen wrote.

“Consent is a key element of the offense, and GMP apparently consented to the presence of media at protests, and gave instructions that the media should not be arrested,” he continued.

Braithwaite filed suit in January, alleging that Coriell’s actions caused him to be falsely arrested.

Coriell told Orleans County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Phil Brooks that there would be no exceptions in the arrests of those allegedly trespassing on GMP property.

Braithwaite alleges that Coriell did so maliciously and in retaliation for editorials Braithwaite penned opposing the industrial wind project.

The suit also alleges that GMP concealed the fact that it had directed Coriell to tell Brooks that Braithwaite was not to be arrested — information that would have cleared Braithwaite of any legal wrongdoing.

Braithwaite, represented by Phil White, asks the court to grant repayment of the $22,530 in legal costs with 12-percent interest per year, punitive damages, and attorney fees and costs associated with the civil suit.

Besides the false arrest count, Braithwaite and the Chronicle allege that Coriell and GMP caused the false prosecution of Braithwaite; that Coriell made fraudulent and slanderous statements that he knew would cause law enforcement to arrest Braithwaite; and that GMP and Coriell fraudulently concealed the fact that Braithwaite had the company’s consent to remain on the mountain during the arrests for 12 months.

Braithwaite also alleges that his civil rights, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, were violated by the actions of Coriell and GMP.

In the answer, GMP asserts that Coriell was not employed by the company, but rather was acting as an independent contractor.

In affirmative defenses to the suit, GMP and Coriell say Braithwaite and the Chronicle are precluded from recovering on their claims under the doctrines of unclean hands, where a plaintiff did something unethical in relation to the subject of the suit, and estoppel, in which one party cannot be harmed by another party’s voluntary conduct.

“Plaintiff Braithwaite consented to, instigated and desired any arrest,” the answer states. “Any arrest of Plaintiff Braithwaite was made upon probable cause.”

The defendants assert that their actions and omissions were done in good faith, and that Braithwaite was actually guilty of criminal trespass.

Any damages suffered by the Chronicle or Braithwaite were the caused by their own conduct, the answer states, and the plaintiffs failed to mitigate their damages.

“The Plaintiffs are precluded from recovering on their claims under the doctrines of contributory negligence, comparative negligence, comparative causation and assumption of the risk,” the answer states.