Dear Ms. Nicholes, Mr. Tynes and Mr. Holbert:
As you know, I currently represent Mr. Christopher Elliott, who is a Baldwin County Commissioner, and who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on May 14, 2016. Following Mr. Elliott’s arrest, there were several media reports concerning Mr. Elliott’s initial press release, the facts and circumstances of the arrest and Mr. Elliott’s subsequent interviews with certain civic organizations and media outlets.
Lagniappe decided to write several articles about Mr. Elliott’s case and the facts and circumstances of his arrest. When Lagniappe contacted me for the first two articles, I provided telephone interviews answering many questions about Mr. Elliott’s position. Regardless of my explanation, and despite these interviews, Lagniappe continued to write unfavorable and unimportant stories about the arrest and the legal proceedings which ensued.
As a result, and pursuant to Mr. Elliott’s instruction, I stopped providing any comments to Lagniappe when requested on multiple occasions. Mr. Elliott then chose to speak about his legal proceedings to the Eastern Shore Republican Women’s group, Hal Scheurich with Fox News 10 and Debbie Williams with NBC 15 in live media interviews. It was clear Lagniappe became upset due to the lack of access to Mr. Elliott.
This sole fact influenced your ability to cover Mr. Elliott’s cases without bias and precipitated your future negative articles. On Feb. 1, an article was published by Lagniappe (on the byline of Jane Nicholes with contribution by Mr. Tynes and Mr. Holbert) about Mr. Elliott which contained the following language: “Compounding matters, Elliott falsely told local media and a gathering of Republican women earlier this month his case had been ‘settled’ recently, ending with a guilty plea, fines and a 45-day suspension of his driver’s license.”
As a public figure, Lagniappe is free to express its opinions about the legal proceedings of Mr. Elliott; however, Lagniappe is not free to recklessly misrepresent facts in order to generate ratings and community interest in its publication. On Sept. 7, 2016, Mr. Elliott’s criminal case was settled pursuant to an Order to Withhold Adjudication issued by Judge Haymes Snedeker in the Municipal Court of Fairhope, Alabama. On Jan. 6, Mr. Elliott’s driver’s license suspension lawsuit was also settled as confirmed in a Final Order issued by Judge William Shashy in the Circuit Court of Baldwin County, Alabama on Feb. 15, 2017.
Under Alabama law, the publishing of false and misleading information concerning Mr. Elliott constitutes libel for which my client may be entitled to compensatory damages. Furthermore, well-established Alabama law dictates that if a libelous statement is published maliciously, either with knowledge it was false or reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, Mr. Elliott may be entitled to punitive damages.
At the time you wrote the article on Feb. 1, 2017, Mr. Elliott had settled both of his legal proceedings. You had no information in your possession to verify Lagniappe’s self-serving statement that Mr. Elliott “falsely” represented anything when speaking to the public. This statement was simply fabricated to appease your readers.
In other words, you recklessly disregarded whether such statement was true or not because your news publication was angry that Mr. Elliott would not communicate with you.
Please allow this letter to serve as Mr. Elliott’s formal demand for an immediate full and fair retraction as to your previous statement in the same manner and same method as your previous article was published. Your failure to comply may result in Mr. Elliott seeking legal action.
D. Robert Stankoski Jr.
Mr. Elliott and his attorney have been offered the opportunity to produce any signed legal document concluding his legal dealings with ALEA that predates his statements to the media and Republican Women’s gathering. They have not done so.
We stand by our reporting.