NEWPORT CITY – Publisher Christopher Braithwaite and his weekly newspaper, the Chronicle, are suing Green Mountain Power and David Coriell, who communicated with police at the Lowell Mountain industrial wind site when Braithwaite was arrested for trespassing in Dec. 2011.
The complaint was filed Wednesday in Orleans Superior Court-Civil Division under seal by Braithwaite’s attorney Phil White because it is not a public document until all parties have been served.
The complaint makes reference to confidential documents that remain under seal in the now-dismissed criminal case. Those documents were filed under seal with civil court, White wrote.
In a motion asking the court to allow Braithwaite to retain those sealed records, White wrote that the suit alleges that “Coriell acted willfully, maliciously, and fraudulently in telling Phil Brooks that there were no exceptions, including the press, to those who were to be arrested if they refused to leave the property.”
The suit alleges that Green Mountain Power (GMP) failed to disclose to the Orleans County State’s Attorney’s office that Braithwaite had its consent to be on the property to cover a protest of the development and that Coriell had been explicitly instructed to let Chief Deputy Brooks know.
The court unsealed a small portion of the internal GMP e-mails discussing the matter after the Orleans County Record obtained and printed them, but kept the bulk of them under seal.
Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, who dismissed the charge against Braithwaite with prejudice Monday, ordered the parties to return the materials to GMP by Wednesday.
Now, White wrote, those documents are evidence of tortious wrong doing. He asks the court to allow him to retain the documents indefinitely but under the protective order, unless the court decides they should all be made public.
Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker dismissed the charge without prejudice after the documents came to light by a defense subpoena, but argued that if the state had been able to call Coriell, he could have rebutted information in the e-mails.
Coriell was unavailable, Baker said, because he was taking his finals in law school out of state at the time of the scheduled trial dates. Baker said the misdemeanor charge didn’t warrant such an inconvenience.
In the e-mail exchanges, GMP higher-ups express surprise that Braithwaite was arrested since Coriell had been explicitly told to let Brooks know that reporters were not to be arrested.
“If Chris was not been arrested the other arrests would likely have been a non event. Frankly I don’t understand why Chris was arrested since you gave exact instructions that he not be,” Robert Dostis of GMP wrote in one e-mail five days after Braithwaite’s arrest.
“Did the leadership instruction not to arrest CB just not get relayed fast enough Monday morning?” consultant Stephen Terry asked.
In what White deems an apparently “disingenuous” response, Coriell wrote, “It didn’t get relayed to all the officers involved. That said, I know the Sheriff had no intention of arresting Chris. Chris actually arrested himself by physically walking him back to the middle of the crane path.”
Coriell continued, “I don’t care who you are, if you call a police officer an expletive, your chances of getting arrested increase. He step over a professional line.”
“That said, we have no intention of arresting the press,” Coriell wrote.
In dismissing the charge with prejudice, which prevents the state from bringing the charge in the future, VanBenthuysen wrote, “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.”
“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.
“On the eve of trial there was no indication by the State that Mr. Coriell was unavailable. Nor is it readily apparent how – given the discovery disclosures – he might be an effective rebuttal witness for the State in this one-year-old misdemeanor case,” VanBenthuysen wrote.
White’s motion to retain the documents doesn’t mention what type of relief Braithwaite seeks, but prior to it being filed, Braithwaite asked GMP to repay his more than $22,000 in legal expenses and to apologize. It did neither.
Dorothy Schnure, spokesperson for GMP, said Wednesday that she can’t comment on the lawsuit until she’s seen it.
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