'Rally for Free Speech' set today — June 10 — in south county
Fred Weber Inc. has sowed the wind and will "reap the whirlwind" in its attempts to sue Tom Diehl of Oakville for speaking out against the company's efforts to build a trash-transfer station here, according to a south county attorney.
Jerry Wamser, an attorney who represents County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, believes Fred Weber's lawsuit against Diehl is one of the most direct assaults against free speech he has seen in the region — and he's doing something about it.
Wamser has organized a "Rally for Free Speech," which will take place at 7 p.m. today — June 10 — at the Holiday Inn South County Center on South Lindbergh Boulevard at Interstate 55.
"The suit is a crock and has no merit whatsoever as a defamation suit," Wamser told the Call. "It exists solely to intimidate — to try to shut up opposition, to direct an affront to the First Amendment to the Constitution. And if they get away with it, the capacity of free citizens to defend their homes by participating in public issues will be chilled, if not utterly destroyed."
A $20 donation is optional to attend the rally.
The prime purpose of the rally is to raise funds to help the legal defense of Diehl "in terms of the enormous threat they face to their home and family," Wamser said.
Fred Weber Inc. filed suit Feb. 20 in St. Louis County Circuit Court against Diehl and is seeking $5 million in punitive damages and at least $25,000 in actual damages.
Diehl faces counts of slander, libel, civil conspiracy and business defamation for his alleged association with fliers that were distributed last December identifying Fred Weber Inc. as "trash terrorists," according to claims made by the company in the suit. The suit also accuses John Does or other unknown "co-conspirators" of the same counts that Diehl faces.
"They have been singled out for a $5 million pile driver," Wamser told the Call. "That's the extinction for most American household budgets ... Those numbers were chosen deliberately by Weber."
A secondary purpose of conducting the rally, he said, is to stimulate the community and to organize a response in defense of free speech.
"This is a direct assault on the rights of people to speak out to organize and to defend their homes and property values by involving themselves in public issues."
Asked why he decided to conduct the rally on behalf of Diehl and the community, Wamser said that as an attorney, he believed part of his responsibility was to give back to the community and that he owed a "duty of service."
"I can think of no more important question ... than preserving the basic right to speak without intimidation...," Wamser said, noting that Fred Weber Inc. "not only is trying to shut up the people, they've tried to shut up Campisi."
Fred Weber Inc. filed a motion in March to disqualify Campisi from participating in a then-upcoming appeal hearing on the company's application to construct a trash-transfer station at 5219 Baumgartner Road. The Department of Health last fall denied a license to the company for its proposal on that site.
Fred Weber contended in its motion that Campisi could not make a fair and unbiased decision on the company's appeal based on negative comments the councilmen made to area media regarding the company.
Councilmen denied the motion, allowing Campisi to participate in an April appeal hearing. Councilmen also denied Fred Weber's appeal during that same meeting.
"With this rally, we're trying to energize that powerful base of free Americans to preserve that basic liberty to speak out ...," Wamser said. "All the costs that arise in this thing do not just affect Tom Diehl ..."
Wamser and others who are involved also will launch the John Doe Society during the rally.
"The John Doe Society was inspired by Fred Weber's own lawsuit. They sought to identify certain John Does as co-conspirators," he said. "They filed without naming individuals — John Does, men and women who might share opposition to Fred Weber's efforts. We will demonstrate to Weber there are an awful lot of John Does out there."
Campisi told the Call that he planned to speak at the rally and would deliver a presentation, updating the public on Fred Weber — including the status of its current trash-transfer application and violations at its south quarry in Oakville.
"It's not just Tom Diehl we are supporting here," Campisi said. "I'm supporting all my constituents out in Oakville ... This is about everyone in the south county, Oakville area that has been named as one of the John Does. And I am the representative of south county therefore I will be at the meeting and will answer any questions that are brought up."