During the 2006 election, the Star/Tribune ran a story about Alan Fine, the GOP candidate for the Minnesota house against then-candidate, now-representative Keith Ellison.
The piece, with a byline from reporters Rochelle Olson and Paul McEnroe, but which reportedly included a lot of reporting from Erik Black, dropped right before the election, and covered a 12-year-old domestic violence case in which Fine was arrested after a reported altercation with his then-wife.
I looked at the story and thought, for a variety of reasons, that it stank to high heaven. Scott Johnson at Powerline , being a lawyer, was able to put fact, or lack of it, to the Strib’s “coverage”; the Strib piece omitted the facts that there was no physical evidence of abuse, no charges were ever filed, the arrest was expunged from Fine’s record, that Fine had eventually won custody of their minor child (a rarity in contested divorces in Minnesota), and Fine’s ex-wife later went on to get arrested for…domestic abuse.
I asked the Strib why all these facts got left out of Olson and McEnroe’s story.
“It was an editorial decision; there wasn’t enough room”, went the response. But that was dodgy; in an exercise in which I left out some of the puffery and marginalia from Olson and McEnroe’s original story, I got in all the facts with plenty of room to spare (in terms of word count and column-inches).
So you may ask; why did the Strib run an incomplete story that related an inaccurate story that served only to slander a Republican candidate against the candidate that the DFL and Star/Tribune both endorsed?
Do I need to start over, or what?
The problem is, if last week is any indication, the regional media is getting worse – even more selective in its relation of fact, bespeaking an even more bald-faced desire to get Democrats elected.
Last week, the Strib’s Pat Doyle ran a piece purporting to report on some of Tom Emmer’s legal wranging. I covered it at the time, calling it a “dog bites man” story of a lawyer…practicing law, and dealing with some of the collateral stresses that come with practicing small-town law; an embezzling office manager, a complaint from a former client, some other issues. Even on a “Dog Bites Man” level, the story was thin, runny gruel.
The single story of the four that seemed to perhaps hold water was the tale of the landscaper that, to read Doyle’s account, lost a lawsuit against Emmer and his wife Jacquie.
Now, if you take Doyle’s account at face value, Emmer looks like a parsimonious weasel who wriggled out of a bill on a technicality:
In small claims court, District Judge Kathleen Mottl awarded Poppler his entire claim. She added that Emmer’s “request for reimbursement of ‘attorney’s fees’ is wholly inappropriate, as he represented himself.”
Emmer took his appeal to District Court, where his lawyer argued that he wasn’t responsible for the landscaping bill because his wife had initiated and modified the job.
Earlier, Mottl had disagreed with that notion. “She essentially did so as her husband’s agent,” she wrote.
But District Judge Dale Mossey ruled that Emmer was not responsible for his wife’s actions. Poppler said Jacquie Emmer has not paid the $1,237.
He said he’s considering suing her, but he is concerned about attorney’s fees.
Sounds pretty damaging.
And sources out on the campaign trail tell me that the tale has raised some eyebrows.
But Doyle’s story is missing some key facts.
A Minnesota Tenth District Court document, “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order” for Case Number CV-07-7141, filed on December 28, 2007, includes the following “Findings of Fact” (transcribed from the order), relates the conclusions of the judge, after a December 13 hearing in Buffalo between Tony Poppler and defeandant Tom Emmer.:
- In May of 2006, Jacquie Emmer contacted Plaintiff, seeking the performance of landscaping work. Plaintiff and Ms. Emmer discussed the scope of the work and the price to perform that work. Plaintiff and Ms. Emmer entered into an oral contract to perform the work.
- On June 22 and 23, 2007, Plaintiff performed the work requested. During the work, Mrs. Emmer requested additional work to be performed and Plaintiff agreed to perform it. Part of this additional work included removal of certain dirt. Mrs. Emmer and Plaintiff did not discuss the specific cost of the additional work.
- Defended is married to Mrs. Emmer. During the course of the project, Defendant looked over some of the work that had been performed and said that it looked good.
- Defendant never asked Plaintiff to perform any work whatsoever. defendant never agreed to pay for removal of dirt. There is no evidence that Defendant directed Mrs. Emmer to seek landscaping services or to remove dirt.
- Plaintiff has been compensated for all materials and labor except for, possibly, the removal of dirt. Plaintiff does not seek recovery from Defendant or Mrs. Emmer under any theory of contract. Plaintiff does not seek recovery from Mrs. Emmer under any theory. Plaintiff seeks recovery from Defendant on a quasi contract theory of unjust enrichment.
Re-read number five. It says that, as a matter of fact, Poppler didn’t try to sue Mrs. Emmer, the person with whom he had the “contract”. He’s trying to get the money out of Tom Emmer for “unjust enrichment“.
The “Conclusions of Law” are pretty succinct:
- Plaintiff’s performance of landscaping work at the direction of Mrs. Emmer does not unjustly enrich Defendant. Schumacher v. Schumacher, 627 N.W. 2d 725, 729 (Minn App. 2001).
In other words, the basis of Poppler’s suit – that Tom Emmer was “unjustly enriched” by the flap between he and Jacquie Emmer – had no basis in law.
And the “Order for Judgment” is one simple line:
- Defendant is entitled to dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims, with prejudice, and to tax his costs.
I’m no lawyer, but it looks as if Mr. Poppler and Jacquie Emmer had a misunderstanding about billing – even though as the court directly noted, he was paid for everything but the dirt removal. Poppler went after Tom Emmer and, after an appeal, lost, and was compelled to pay Tom Emmer’s court costs.
A source with knowledge of the situation emailed: “Basically, [Poppler] didn’t sue Jacquie because he couldn’t – he did not have a contract and he would have lost. So he tried to sue Tom for “unjust enrichment.” In the findings of fact, the judge wrote that he didn’t have a case against Jacquie. He ruled that the guy sued the wrong person. And he gave Tom court costs. A clear victory for the Emmers“.
But to hear Pat Doyle tell the story, you’d think it was one of a pettifogging attorney welching out on a contractor, and getting away with it on a petty technicality.
Pat Doyle would seem to have printed all the news that fit…the Strib’s narrative. It’s of a piece with the 2006 smear of Alan Fine, the 2000 smear by association of Rod Grams (reporting on his son Morgan’s addication problems while omitting the fact that Grams had had very little contact with his son; his ex-wife had custory), and other among the Strib’s greatest hits, and might prompt a thinking person to say “there’s a pattern here”.
I will be asking Pat Doyle for comment. Don’t hold your breath; most Strib and PiPress reporters seem to think they’re above answering questions from peasants.