The group of eight Waldo County residents accused by a Belfast mother and daughter of spreading rumors that the duo runs a brothel are seeking to have a judge dismiss the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in May by April Walker and her mother, R. M. Woodford, against Belfast City Councilors Mike Hurley and Neal Harkness, as well as Cheryl Fuller, Mandy Marriner-Everett, Anne Saggese, Joshua Ard, Erik Klausmeyer and Allison Ames Goscinski. The women have accused the group of publicly spreading false statements about them. The eight defendants have denied the accusations made in the lawsuit and claim that the Facebook comments provided as evidence have been fabricated.
The motion to dismiss the lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon in Waldo County Court by the group’s attorney, Chris MacLean, after the women did not dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily last month. MacLean said the lawsuit should be dismissed because it violates Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute, which was enacted to give the courts a way to quickly dismiss meritless or frivolous lawsuits that seek to silence or harass those who speak out on issues of public interest. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.”
“It was a very poor and reckless decision to file a lawsuit against my clients with fabricated documents that anyone can see are not actually Facebook postings. The exhibits were amateurishly created on a home computer and I am frankly astonished that this lawsuit was ever filed,” the defendants’ attorney, Chris McLean said Monday. “The motion to dismiss is just the beginning of a process to address a gross abuse of court process. It will not end until clients are fully compensated for the harm done to them.”
In their lawsuit, Walker and Woodford have accused the eight defendants of spreading rumors on Facebook about the women after they expressed their opposition to a proposal for a former school to be converted into rental properties more than two years ago.
Some of the alleged comments included statements regarding Walker and Woodford running a brothel at their home on Church Street and hosting sex parties there. One Facebook comment included as evidence in the lawsuit insinuated that Jeffrey Epstein had visited the house.
The defendants deny ever making any of the statements alleged by Walker and Woodford. However, they did engage in conversations regarding the Peirce School proposal on Facebook and some made public statements of support for the project, according to Monday’s court filing.
Ultimately, the developer behind the proposal withdrew the application and the project never came to fruition.
In the motion filed Monday, MacLean argues that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it was filed in an attempt to discourage his clients from participating in public conversations regarding local issues.
“It is clear that the plaintiffs remain upset by the public discourse that took place concerning the Peirce School, and have filed this fictitious lawsuit to quell any further public participation that may be contrary to the interests of the plaintiffs by any of the eight named defendants,” according to MacLean’s motion.
The attorney representing Woodford and Walker, David Walker, said he expects the court to reject MacLean’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. David Walker said Maine’s anti-SLAPP law “does not protect statements such as those that appear” in the lawsuit.
“My clients vehemently deny having fabricated anything, nor is there any conceivable motive for doing so,” David Walker said.