Sunday, January 11, 2009

Berkeley Blogger's Suit Against Defense Department in Limbo

In case you might be wondering what is happening with my lawsuit against the DoD, it's currently being tried in both Federal AND State courts. Yikes!

I started to write an article about my dilemma, but a reporter from the Daily Californian just called me up and asked if she could write an article on my case as well -- but she did such a good job of it that I'm sending you her article instead of mine.

PS: Does anyone know any San Francisco Bay Area attorney or local law school that would like to help me with a "Motion to Remand" my case back to small claims court? I just wrote one myself and it appears to be a jewel of a motion as far as I can tell -- so let's just hope that the judge won't laugh too hard when I file it tomorrow.

Berkeley Blogger's Suit Against Defense Department in Limbo
By Keena Batti, Daily Californian, January 9, 2009

Nearly a year after the Defense Department canceled her embed in Iraq, Berkeley blogger Jane Stillwater was left without answers on her lawsuit today when her hearing was delayed for another month and moved to federal court.

A representative from the Defense Department failed to attend the small claims court today in Berkeley. The case has been rescheduled for Feb. 13, Stillwater said. "I'd like to say, 'Yay, I won,' but basically, they're giving me the run around," she said. "They want to make it so hard for me that I'll give up."

Stillwater, 66, sued the Defense Department in June after her embed was canceled on Feb. 12., the same day that she arrived in Kuwait under the impression that she would be permitted to enter Iraq with a military unit. According to Stillwater, the cost of the damages-a non-refundable airplane ticket, 15 mocha lattes and pain and inconvenience she experienced while waiting at an airport in Kuwait-add up to $1,780.

On Dec. 31, officials from the United States attorney's office filed a notice of removal, which stated that Stillwater's case would be moved from small claims court to federal court. In a document to Stillwater, the Defense Department explained that federal acts cannot be tried in a small claims court, justifying the switch.

Stillwater is seeking a motion to remand in order to move her trial back to the small claims court, where attorneys are not permitted to represent either party. She said she feels she has a better chance of winning in a small claims court because both sides are required to represent themselves. If the case is heard in federal court, the Defense Department may hire lawyers from the Justice Department, which Stillwater says she finds imposing.

Stillwater recently revised her lawsuit and is suing the Defense Department for the highest amount possible for alleged malicious persecution-$7,500.

The Defense Department is now suing Stillwater for all court costs, which Stillwater believes could be anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000.

Stillwater said she will continue with the lawsuit even if she cannot move her case back to a small claims court. "I'd have a hard time raising the kind of money they're asking for," Stillwater said. "What are they going to do, put me in jail? I'd have free room and board for 25 years."


Here's the Daily Cal's original article on the subject: Berkeley Blogger Sues Military Over Canceled Embed in Iraq
By Kenna Batti, December 5, 2008

Jane Stillwater is suing the U.S. Department of Defense after it gave her conflicting reports about the status of her embed before finally cancelling it outright earlier this year. UC Berkeley alumnus and active blogger Jane Stillwater has filed a lawsuit seeking reimbursement after the U.S. Department of Defense cancelled her embed in Iraq scheduled for earlier this year while she waited in Kuwait.

Stillwater, 66, who has shadowed U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in the Middle East and Asia, is requesting a refund of $1,780 to cover the costs of her non-refundable airplane ticket, 15 mocha lattes and pain and inconvenience. Stillwater said she applied for the embed on Jan. 18. After her request was granted the following day, she purchased her plane ticket to Kuwait, where Army personnel were to escort her to Iraq.

That same day, however, U.S. Army embed coordinators cancelled her tour, first citing "changes on the battlefield," then "limited resources" and "low circulation of her work compared to military expense," according to court documents.

"They sent me one story after another about why I couldn't embed," Stillwater said. "It would have been fine if they had just said one reason, but they just kept hedging-it got me angry."

Stillwater appealed to the Pentagon, and was told her embed was under review. She then flew to Kuwait on Feb. 12 and received an e-mail upon arrival denying her request. She spent two days living at the airport's Starbucks, consuming 15 mocha lattes, until the U.S. Embassy arranged a flight back to the Bay Area.

Stillwater alleges that the Army cancelled the embed due to her obviously left-wing point of view. However, Leon Smith, publisher of the Lone Star Iconoclast, a newspaper that sponsors her blog, said that Stillwater's writing was usually very positive. "Most of the material she's sent back was really very positive toward the military, which is good of course," he said. "She reports the bare facts."

U.S. Department of Defense officials could not be reached for comment.

Rob Kall, the executive editor and publisher of the Web site that publishes Stillwater's blog, said he was surprised by the Army's conduct. "It was shabby treatment that concerns me, because she went through the process and knew how to deal with the military and getting embedded," he said. "They should have told her in the first place rather than have her spend the money and the time." Kall also attributes the cancellation to an overall decrease in the number of embedded reporters.

Stillwater has taken her lawsuit to the small claims court in Berkeley and is scheduled to be heard at the Alameda County Superior Court on Jan. 9. She will win the case by default if the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Justice does not send an attorney.

Stillwater said her future opportunities to go the Middle East may be limited as she gets older. "Jumping on and off of helicopters and running through war zones when you can barely walk is difficult," she said. "It's breaking my heart."