Fourteen months after Green Mountain Power had a Vermont reporter arrested for trespassing, the electric utility company has agreed to foot the reporter’s legal bills.
Barton Chronicle editor Chris Braithwaite said Tuesday afternoon he planned to drop a lawsuit against the company after it promised to compensate him $22,500 for legal fees he racked up defending himself against a previously dismissed trespassing charge.
The dispute stems from Braithwaite’s December 2011 arrest for failing to leave GMP-owned property on Lowell Mountain as he covered a protest against the company’s Kingdom Community Wind project.
In a written statement, Braithwaite called the settlement “a fair resolution of this matter.”
GMP spokeswoman Dotty Schnure, meanwhile, said the company’s decision to settle the suit in no way indicates it did anything wrong.
“We’re confident we would have prevailed based upon all the facts and the law, but we didn’t see how it benefits our customers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate the case,” Schnure said.
The settlement is a remarkable reversal of fortune for Braithwaite, who just months ago was facing trial for the trespassing arrest.
As we reported in December, an Orleans County prosecutor dropped the charge on the eve of Braithwaite’s trial after GMP released a trove of emails indicating that company higher-ups had sought to prevent the reporter’s arrest. Despite that order, the company’s on-the-ground supervisor, David Coriell, told a county sheriff during the protest that Braithwaite did not have permission to cover it from GMP’s property.
In a motion related to his civil suit, Braithwaite’s attorney wrote in December that Coriell had “acted willfully, maliciously and fraudulently in telling [the sheriff] that there were no exceptions, including the press, to those who were to be arrested if they refused to leave the property.”
But in the statement Braithwaite released Tuesday after reaching a settlement with GMP, the reporter appeared to have changed his tune about Coriell, who no longer works for the company.
“Information provided to me by Green Mountain Power has led me to conclude that David Coriell was acting in good faith and may not have received the directive from GMP at the time of my arrest on Lowell Mountain on December 5, 2011,” Braithwaite wrote.
He added that his relations with Coriell “were professional and cordial, and I appreciated that he was doing a very difficult job under very stressful circumstances, as was I.”
Schnure also came to Coriell’s defense Tuesday.
“Dave was doing his job,” she said. “He was doing his job well.”
Braithwaite, on the other hand, could have prevented the entire ordeal from happening, Schnure argued.
“Might I remind you that if Chris had just called us like any other journalist, we would’ve let him on the mountain and this could have all been avoided,” she said.