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Journalist Sues GMP

December 26, 2012

NEWPORT – Chris Braithwaite and The Chronicle filed a civil complaint against Green Mountain Power (GMP) Wednesday.  
Braithwaite, the 68-year old publisher of the Chronicle, was arrested December 5, 2011, while covering a protest on Lowell Mountain. He faced a criminal trespass charge for a year and racked up more than $20,000 in legal fees.
Internal emails subpoenaed by Braithwaite’s attorney Phil White of Newport, just days before trial, revealed that GMP, the corporation which built a wind turbine farm on Lowell Mountain, did not want Braithwaite arrested and had informed employees of that fact.
According to a new motion filed by White Wednesday, the complaint alleges that David Coriell, the GMP official on the mountain that day with police, acted “willfully, maliciously, and fraudulently in telling Phil Brooks (Chief Deputy Sheriff)  that there were no exceptions, including the press, to those who were to be arrested if they refused to leave the property.”   
GMP is included as a defendant in the complaint, not only as Coreill’s superior, but also for its “subsequent failure to disclose to the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Defendant that, in fact, Braithwaite had its consent to be on the property covering this event as a journalist and that David Coriell should have told this to the arresting officer,” the complaint states. The complaint is currently under seal until served.
In the most recent motion, White has asked the courts to keep the rest of the information subpoenaed from GMP and has alleged that the information proves wrongdoing.
A protective order issued in the criminal case required return of confidential GMP documents within 60 days of the termination of that action. Upon GMP’s request and without opportunity for Braithwaite to respond, the court shortened that time period for returning the documents to Dec. 26, 2012, except for those documents that had become part of the public record or which had not been labeled as confidential, White wrote. The remaining confidential documents, obtained by subpoena, have become “evidence of tortious wrong doing,” White said.
 The case against Braithwaite was dismissed with prejudice by the court on Monday, meaning that the state cannot attempt to retry him on the misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass.
Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker had dismissed the case without prejudice after she saw the emails, which meant the state could have again brought the case against Braithwaite.
In an interview, she said the reason for the dismissal was that the key witness, Dave Coriell, was out of state, and she did not want to subpoena him to testify as it would be an inconvenience.
White promptly filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice and Judge Howard VanBenthuysen agreed. He wrote that GMP apparently consented to the presence of media at protests and gave instructions that the media should not be arrested.
Legal fees and expenses incurred in Braithwaite’s criminal defense total $22,530. Dec. 7, White asked GMP for an apology and reparative payment of these fees. So far they have declined to do
either, White wrote in an email.
“GMP officials seem wholly indifferent to the fact that Chris was left facing criminal charges for an entire year, when the prompt and voluntary release of these internal e-mails would have nipped these charges in the bud,” White wrote.
Spokesperson Dotty Schnure with GMP said in a recent interview that any reporter who wanted to go on their property needed to let GMP know ahead of time. Requirements are that someone from GMP would have to accompany anyone who came on to their site at all times, and guests would have to wear safety equipment and attend safety training.
“Chris Braithwaite made choices. He could have avoided this. He chose not to contact us for permission to be there. We are responsible for the people on the site,” Schnure said. “Braithwaite did not have prior authorization to be there as required....”  
Once the police arrived, they gave the protesters and Braithwaite the option to leave the property or be arrested. Braithwaite said that if he had left GMP property, he would not have been able to witness the arrest or to do his job properly. He walked back to the crane path with those being arrested.
Schnure also said that they didn’t want Braithwaite or anyone arrested. But, she added, once the police were on site, they were in charge.
When asked, Schnure noted that she did not think Coriell got the message not to arrest Braithwaite. She noted that cell phone coverage is spotty on the mountain.

 

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