Thursday, December 30, 2010

Citizen Journalist Sued by Federal Contractor

Horseback Magazine

December 30, 2010
By Steven Long
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – A citizen journalist working for The has been sued by the government’s largest BLM “gather” contractor. The suit filed in a rural Juab County, Utah district court charges Maureen Harmonay routinely misrepresented the facts in a series of stories on wild horse roundups in several western states.
Harmonay has filed a denial with the court.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are David and Sue Cattoor, owners of Cattoor Livestock Roundup, Inc. of Nephi, Utah.
Citizen journalists are recent phenomena, an outgrowth of Internet publishing. Under press freedoms afforded by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, virtually anybody can be a journalist. Unlike in other countries, in the United States no license to practice the craft is required. Such journalists, like their professional brethren, are afforded broad protections under a landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling, New York Times vs. Sullivan. Since the ruling the legal doctrine has provided safe refuge for a generation of journalists who write about the rich and powerful, often to their subject’s discomfort. The ruling sets very high standards a plaintiff must meet to prevail in a lawsuit. Journalists are largely protected by the doctrine when writing about public officials and public figures such as someone in the news. The plaintiff must prove malice.  Both Cattoors, because of their high profile in the BLM wild horse and slaughter controversies, would likely be considered public figures by the courts.
Harmonay is a Sterling, Massachusetts real estate agent and freelance writer.
“I am a former Thoroughbred bloodstock agent and am passionately interested in the welfare of horses,” she told Horseback Magazine. “I write about equine advocacy and rescue topics, as well as about Thoroughbred pedigree issues.” is a website that publishes the freelance contributions of local and national writers on a variety of newsworthy topics, including arts, culture, education, food, pets, politics, sport, and travel.
The Cattoors have been fiercely protective of their turf closing off their roundups to journalists. The couple has also threatened other publications and reporters with lawsuits.
The Cattoor’s attorney, Stephen Queensenberry of a Provo, Utah, law firm has written several extremely threatening letters to journalists, publications, and websites, covering the Cattoor’s BLM roundups including one to Harmonay stating, “I want to remind you that you will be litigating pro se in a rural county of a conservative state. Our clients have lived in Juab County for a very long time. It is likely, from our prospective, that a jury might award anywhere from six figures to the low seven figures. Our case is defamation per se, so we do not have to prove any actual damages. If we obtain a judgment, we will pursue it through bankruptcy or anything else.”
 “You can see from this brief excerpt how threatening this is,” Harmonay said.
In their years as BLM contractors, the Cattors have billed the government millions. 
Sue Cattoor responded to a request for comment by the Horseback saying, “I am sure you have read the lawsuit and what we asked Maureen to do and not to do.  The other defendents – publishers & etc I beleive can not be held accountable for what she writes or has written.”
Two defendants including the operators of The Examiner have been dropped from the lawsuit according to Harmonay.

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