|Attorney Jerry Wamser displays a name tag that states 'Hello, my name is John Doe' during last week's 'Rally for Free Speech.' Those who contributed to the John Doe Society were given the name tags. Also pictured are County Councilman John Campisi, center, and Oakville resident Tom Diehl.
Bill Milligan photo
(click for larger version)|
'John Does' raise $6,500 to aid Oakville man sued by Fred Weber
A bunch of "John Does'' recently contributed $6,500 to assist an Oakville man who is being sued for $5 million by Fred Weber Inc.
More than 250 people showed up in support of Tom Diehl last week during a "Rally for Free Speech" to raise money to assist in Diehl's court costs and attorney fees associated with a lawsuit filed this winter by Fred Weber, which accuses him of trying to trash the company's name.
Diehl publicly has opposed Fred Weber's efforts to construct a trash-transfer station in Oakville for more than a year.
Fred Weber 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 original petition also accused John Does or other unknown "co-conspirators" of the same counts that Diehl faces.
It was this action by Fred Weber that has caused the creation of the John Doe Society, which was launched at the June 10 rally.
During the society's official launch, attorney Jerry Wamser, who organized the rally, explained that Fred Weber officially has dismissed without prejudice its counts in the suit against the John Does, which is "good" and "bad" news.
Wamser also represents County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county.
"A dismissal without prejudice is the legal equivalent of someone making a fist at you and then putting it behind his back," Wamser said. "The John Does have gone away for now, but can come back at their whim."
Wamser noted that several requests, including zoning petitions, license applications and motions to disqualify a councilman, have been denied by the County Council.
"Having lost the government, having lost the media, having lost the people, they still have one fundamental hope — pull off a victory in the courts," Wamser said. "There, we must stop them. They have a battalion of law firms hard at work on their behalf and an unlimited budget. So, tonight we launch the John Doe Society to help in this legal showdown."
The original petition against Diehl sought to sue unnamed John Does or co-conspirators, he repeated, adding, "We're going to take that term John Doe and throw it right back in their faces.''
The John Doe Society is a newly organized not-for-profit organization, he said, specifically designed to protect the rights of free speech for citizens and to raise legal funds for Diehl.
Holding up a name tag that stated, "Hello, my name is John Doe," Wamser said, "I think it would be nice the next time they have a hearing, for them to find John Does aplenty in the crowd."
Those who contributed to the John Doe Society were given the name tags. Donations of at least $20 were requested, but any amount was accepted to purchase the name tags. Anyone who would like a name tag or to contribute to Diehl's legal fund, can send checks to the John Doe Society Inc., 105 Concord Plaza, Suite 209, St. Louis, Mo. 63128.
Wamser and those involved only expected to raise $3,000 during last week's event, he told the Call, and are delighted their expectations have been exceeded twofold.
The John Doe Society is planning a large event for July, which will significantly affect Fred Weber, he said, but he would offer no other details. He promised, however, to inform the public as future John Doe Society events and rally details become final.
"Your presence here tonight gives us great comfort and courage," Diehl told members of the crowd during last week's rally.
Diehl was limited in what he could say publicly, Wamser said, because of the pending litigation.
"I know many people here are here in fear and trepidation, but this quote from Winston Churchill said, 'Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.' I'm here to say that together we have more strength than all the silk-stocking lawyers in St. Louis County," Diehl said.
"Tonight, we've come together to take our stand. We can no longer sit idly by. We must fight for our children. We must fight for our community. We must fight for justice. We must defend our liberty ... I'm here tonight to say my name is John Doe. I will speak out. I will fight and I will be heard,'' he added.
Mark Mosher of Oakville described to the crowd of more than 250 the events leading up to and after Fred Weber filed its lawsuit against Diehl.
In May 2003, Fred Weber filed an application for a trash-transfer station on Baumgartner and Old Baumgartner roads.
"Fortunately," Mosher said, numerous residents rallied together to oppose the proposal with volunteers going door-to-door and making countless phone calls describing the situation.
The message went out and on June 19, 2003, he explained, more than 1,500 people attended a Department of Health public hearing at Oakville Senior High School.
"It was at this meeting that Tom Diehl spoke against Weber's plan to build a trash-transfer station," Mosher said. "After Tom spoke he received a standing ovation and the Weber faction realized they were up a formidable opponent. I think we all realized we had a formidable ally."
One month later, Diehl spoke out again at a Missouri Department of Natural Resources hearing, which drew about 1,200 residents.
Before a March St. Louis County Planning Commission hearing, at which Diehl intended to speak, he received a letter from Fred Weber, Mosher said, "threatening" to sue him and unnamed John Does with possible litigation "in an attempt to stop him from testifying."
"But, as Tom was under the mistaken assumption that south county residents are guaranteed the same freedoms of liberties as all other citizens of the United States, he testified anyway," Mosher said. "The following evening, while Tom was attending a St. Louis County Council meeting, his wife was served with the lawsuit."
"While that was bad enough, Fred Weber Inc. then moved to disqualify our county councilman from voting in Fred Weber's appeal of the health department's application," he continued. "They accused, believe it or not, Mr. Campisi of being under the influence of his constituents."
Campisi also spoke during the rally, pledging his support to the Diehl family and anyone else who might be named in the suit by Fred Weber.
"I truly believe that all of you have been hurt by all of this ... I've been working hard with Tom and his wife, Barbie. I want them to know I am going to do everything I can possibly do to help them with this suit, including coming to meetings like this to help get funds for their campaign to help them pay for this sort of thing," the councilman said.
"This is a very serious issue. Trying to keep your councilman quiet and not represent you is a very bad thing in my opinion ... It's going to take a lot more than that suit to stop me from ... working with you,'' Campisi said. "I am going to work with you no matter what and I don't care what a judge says," he continued. "I'm going to help you to the end. I just want to let you know that. I'm not going to stop working for you, no matter what they say. And I'm not going to shut up. There's no way they'll keep me quiet."
Thanking Diehl and his wife, Barbie Diehl, during the rally for their involvement with the trash-transfer station issue, attorney Lester Stuckmeyer said he believed the company's lawsuit against Diehl is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — a SLAPP suit.
"And these are means where large companies can crush ordinary citizens from getting involved," Stuckmeyer said. "They're simply designed to scare and to intimidate. Bully corporations will file a lawsuit against individuals who are opposing them in some form of public fashion and they seek outrageous sums of money. In this case — $5 million."
Despite the tendency for people to believe that these lawsuits are absurd and don't stand a chance, Stuckmeyer warned that SLAPP lawsuits should be taken seriously.
"Not only is there the potential for a large judgment to be handed out in this case, but there (are) definitely attorney fees, court costs. There's worry. There's anxiety over how you're going to pay for the attorney fees and court costs.
"We've all known the stories of people who've gotten silly verdicts. The people go, 'Oh, how could they get that money for spilling coffee on themselves at McDonald's? How could this happen?' And it can happen. These lawsuits are designed to do that and there's some serious real risk of people losing not just a little bit of their finances, but a lot of their finances ...," Stuckmeyer said.
Asked why they were supporting Diehl and contributing to the John Doe Society, many of the citizens who attended the rally told the Call they were afraid to give their names. Some present said they were afraid they would be named in the suit with Diehl, while others simply refused to give their names without offering reasons.
One man granted an interview with this newspaper, but only would identify himself as John Doe, leery of seeing his name in a newspaper article, speaking out against Fred Weber.
"I think this lawsuit is a bunch of stuff," the man said. "But I'm not going to give you my name, well, yes I am. My name is John Doe. We're all still going to fight for no trash-transfer station in the Oakville area."
Bob Eufinger of Oakville had no problem identifying himself to this newspaper.
"Why am I supporting him (Diehl)? I believe when he spoke, he spoke for all of us," Eufinger told the Call. "Had I had the organizational skills and the information he had, I hope I would have gotten up and spoken too. We should all support him. We all tried to support him with information before. Now he's doing the time. We should back him up."
Wearing a John Doe name tag, Linda Boatwright, attended the rally as a resident of Concord and on behalf of Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis.
"I believe that the trash-transfer station is not right for Oakville. I don't think trash-transfer stations have done a whole lot of wrong, I just believe that this is the wrong area to put it in," Boatwright told the Call. "And I think that Tom Diehl has done an excellent job of representing the people and gathering the facts. And I think it is absolutely wrong of Fred Weber Inc. to try to stifle his voice and in doing so, stifle the rest of our voices."
She encouraged residents to speak publicly, whether it be to the press or during public hearings and meetings, on the issue.