Letters for the week of August 1-7, 2007 

Readers sound off on Reggae Rising, Mike Daisey, Kaplan v. Salahi, Segway polo, and Mark Nichol.

"Reggae vs. Reggae," Close 2 tha Edge, 7/18

All is not irie
As a member of the Mateel Community Center, I wish to say a few things regarding your one-sided, biased article. For the Mateel Community Center's point of view, talk to their lawyers. The staff of the community center has been laid off, and does not have the funds to hire a slick public relations firm, like People's Productions takes advantage of.

A large majority of the population in South Humboldt and North Mendocino counties are outraged that "People's Productions" — a for-profit corporation — hijacked a two-decades-old community-sponsored event that benefited our local, nonprofit organizations. For all the years Reggae on the River has been in existence, the Mateel Community Center fronted the seed money to put on the festival. People's Productions reaped the profits without having to invest their own money. Carol and Tom's offer of $200,000 was not going to be paid up-front and was not guaranteed. Boots and 2b1 Productions made an offer of $350,000 up-front and half the ticket sales.

Most importantly, "REGGAE ON THE RIVER" IS NOT FOR SALE AND NEVER HAS BEEN FOR SALE. The community is not willing to sell. I'm sure Tom and Carol wish the whole little problem of an outraged community would go away, but all is not irie when Reggae on the River becomes Babylon Rising.

Many of Humboldt County's nonprofit organizations rely on having a food booth at Reggae on the River as part of their yearly income. Many local nonprofits, including schools, volunteer fire departments, the community radio station, environmental groups, feel so strongly that this year's reggae festival is unethical, they have chosen to stand in solidarity with Mateel Community Center by not having a food booth at the festival this year.

For anyone attending the event, be forewarned: All sorts of protests and actions are being planned by the community at large.
Georje Holpe, Redway

"Sandbox Brawl," Water Cooler, 6/27

Ask the judge
So Salahi and Kaplan are just the same? Equally bad? Children fighting in a sandbox? Then how do you explain that the court found in favor of Lee Kaplan THREE TIMES in five hearings before three judges? That seems to indicate that one side had more merit than the other. Judge Jacqueline Tabor still allowed Salahi to have his day in court after ridiculing his "cleverness" in ducking service for the first hearing, so I doubt there was political bias for either party. The burden of proof was on the plaintiff, Lee Kaplan. He made his case. He persuaded two judges who looked at ALL of the pleadings, many of which went well beyond the material printed on Salahi's Web site. All of this despite the fact that Kaplan is a public figure.

While I always appreciate the knowledgeable comments of Peter Sheer (California First Amendment Coalition), it's obvious he knows nothing of the particulars of this case. This is not a freedom of speech case. It is a libel, slander, and intentional interference in someone's business case, that resulted in financial damages. Salahi bragged he would destroy Kaplan's career. He went out of his way to research any possible Web site, publisher, or server that Kaplan used to target them with threatening e-mails and phone calls. He told them that if they didn't disassociate with Lee Kaplan, he would start a similar Web smear on them. He slandered Kaplan by saying he had threatened members of his family (not true), that he had been implicated with leaving a death threat on a woman's answering machine (not true), that he was stealing property (not true), and that he had been named in a libel lawsuit (not true). He also claimed that Kaplan fabricated his stories from scratch (not true). Salahi even linked to another site which had Photoshopped porn material satirizing Kaplan in a crude manner.

While Salahi had a right to link to the site under the First Amendment, he denied in court, and under oath, that the link had ever existed on his site. Undoubtedly Salahi was looking to remove obvious evidence of malice from his site before judicial review. Rather than admit that he had posted the link and then later took it down, he accused Kaplan of introducing fabricated evidence. I saw the actual link myself and was a witness in court to testify to this. Now he complains that the "standards of evidence were too low".

Nobody made Salahi remove his smearsite, yet, inexplicably, he is framing this case as "an attack on everyone's freedom of speech."

Missing from your article is that for Salahi's appeal, Jewish Voice for Peace sent pro bono attorney Adam Gutride to defend Salahi. He still lost. Don't JVP members have to wonder why their organization is defending libel, slander, and interference with a business? I attended two of the five hearings and am a member of DAFKA. Anyone who says Salahi and Kaplan are "just alike" is not willing to face the differences."
Becky Johnson, Santa Cruz

A wake-up call
As the defendant in Kaplan v. Salahi, I was most distressed to read Mr. Singer-Vine's coverage of the affair. It is difficult to understand the framing of what has happened as a sandbox brawl: every brawl, after all, has a bully, and in this case one has to wonder whether the bully was the well-paid and middle-aged journalist or the third-year college student in his teens.

Nevertheless, while the spat between Kaplan and myself may be entirely juvenile (I am inclined to agree with this), the moment it entered the legal sphere it should have become something of concern to everybody in the state of California, especially considering that it involved one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitution's First Amendment.

In California, defendants in defamation lawsuits are guaranteed certain special protections under the anti-SLAPP statute. My attorney had written and filed a strong anti-SLAPP motion to have the case dismissed, but the judge refused to consider the motion on the grounds that it was inappropriate for small-claims court. This may be true, given that small-claims court is a mess, and really not that far off from what you see on Judge Judy or The People's Court. But if that is the case, then it is equally true that defamation cases, in all their complexity (which you rightly noted), are similarly inappropriate for small-claims court.

Indeed, a number of other states around the country do not allow plaintiffs to bring defamation claims in small-claims court. There is good reason for this because it directly involves our rights under the First Amendment, and has the potential to endanger or punish our legitimate exercise of those rights.

While for me, personally, this lawsuit means that I am $7,500 in debt, for everybody else in the state of California, I hope it is also a wake-up call that will lead to productive reform of the system by removing defamation suits from the jurisdiction of small claims court. That, besides refusing to be silenced by Kaplan's evolving forms of intimidation, is now one of my goals in state politics. I hope that others can look past the muddled stories to recognize this fact at the very least, and will do what they can to prevent this from happening again to somebody else.
Yaman Salahi, Berkeley


Summer Guide, 6/20

Thanks, Eric, for the best article on Segway polo to date! Your writing talent shines brightly for Segway folks everywhere. You really have helped to show Segways in a different light, coolness vs. geeky. I am framing this article in my office, just to show how much I liked it.
Drew Foster, coach, Junkyard Dogs, Oakland

"Bumps in the Road," Cityside, 6/27

Whose side are you on?
Your staff writer Kathleen Richards needs to provide a more balanced view of the much-anticipated Bus Rapid Transit in the East Bay. She is completely misguided in her assessment; did she even read the report? Why is she favoring the already auto-dominated, oil-based culture in the United States? Has she even seen the success in at least 109 other cities in the US and many around the world? This is rapid transit equity for the masses, she needs to get a clue. I'm extremely disappointed, I thought the Express would be in full support of a project like this.
Kieron Slaughter, Richmond

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