Former Libby Mayor Doug Roll is suing The Western News for alleged defamation, civil conspiracy and actual malice related to newspaper articles written last year by then-editor Robert “Bob” Henline.
Roll filed the lawsuit March 23 in Lincoln County District Court. The lawsuit named Hagadone Montana Publishing LLC, doing business as The Western News, as the defendant. Hagadone Montana Publishing is also the parent company of the Daily Inter Lake.
Roll served as mayor for eight years, but resigned Sept. 7, 2016, following a recall attempt and subsequent court ruling that Roll said “fully exonerated” him.
“After all the bad press, thousands of dollars in attorneys fees expended, loss of trust with the city of Libby council members, [Roll] had no choice but to resign in the face of his lost reputation,” the lawsuit alleges. “The public shaming made it impossible to do his job.”
He is asking for a jury trial.
The complaint points out three news articles and one editorial written in April 2016 by Henline that took issue with Roll’s performance as mayor. Henline also authored several other articles about Roll that the lawsuit claims “have the same antagonistic tone and malicious falsehoods.”
Henline began work at The Western News on Oct. 27, 2014, becoming editor in March 2015. He never worked as publisher of The Western News, although the lawsuit refers to him that way. Henline resigned as editor on June 2, 2016. He currently is the director of Kootenai Country Montana, a visitor magazine sponsored by The Venture Inn in Libby. He also works in external affairs for Hecla Montana, a company that owns mine facilities in Northwest Montana.
Henline continues to have a civic presence in Libby, serving as the current president of the Libby Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and as a board member of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, or CARD Foundation.
Roll maintains Henline’s articles, with headlines such as “Mayor lies to council, public” and “Libby Mayor orchestrates illegal meeting” constituted libel.
The Western News later printed a retraction stating an unofficial and unannounced meeting was not illegal.
The lawsuit alleges Henline’s articles prompted Tammy Brown to lead recall efforts, asking Roll to resign as mayor.
Roll filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Brown and others involved in the recall petition. During that court hearing Brown testified it was Henline who actually drafted the recall petitions, according to Roll’s latest court complaint. The court halted the recall effort.
In addition to counts of defamation, civil conspiracy and actual malice, the lawsuit cites tortuous interference with contractual or business relations, alleging The Western News “intentionally and willfully published negative articles containing false information about [Roll], with full knowledge that the facts were false.”
Roll is asking for damages in an amount to be determined at trial, plus punitive damages and attorney fees.
The court documents are available at www.thewesternnews.com.