Wausau Pilot & Review

A Mosinee resident this month filed a defamation lawsuit against Wausau Pilot & Review regarding a story published during the highly charged “A Community for All” discussions in August.

On Oct. 18, Waukesha-based attorney Matthew M. Fernholz, of the law firm Cramer, Multhauf & Hammes, LLP, sent a letter to Wausau Pilot & Review demanding a retraction, an apology and a $200,000 payment to Cory Tomczyk, who denies making a statement at a Marathon County Board meeting that was reported in an Aug. 28 Wausau Pilot & Review story. The letter gave an Oct. 22 deadline to meet those demands before a lawsuit would be filed.

Wausau Pilot & Review subsequently retained the services of Godfrey & Kahn, a firm that specializes in media law, to respond to the demand letter but Fernholz on Nov. 5 filed the lawsuit in Marathon County Circuit Court on Tomczyk’s behalf. Godfrey & Kahn took service for Wausau Pilot & Review last week.

Wausau Pilot & Review’s reporting relied on multiple witness statements, several of whom confirmed they will testify to what they heard, should the case move forward. But Tomczyk’s attorney said a local talk show host will testify that he did not make such a statement – a homophobic slur – during the meeting, which she also attended.

Wausau Pilot & Review is vigorously fighting the allegations set forth in the complaint.

In the complaint, Tomczyk is asking a judge to order Wausau Pilot & Review to pay unspecified monetary damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

Anti-SLAPP laws provide defendants a way to quickly dismiss meritless lawsuits—known as “SLAPPs” or “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”—filed against them for exercising their First Amendment rights. These laws aim to discourage the filing of SLAPP suits and prevent them from imposing significant litigation costs and chilling protected speech.

But Wisconsin is one of 19 states that does not have anti-SLAPP legislation to protect newspapers and journalists from such lawsuits, which can cripple organizations and force them to spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorney’s fees.

The newspaper has 45 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Readers with questions are welcome to email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com.