Friday, January 26, 2007

Court denies Goddard claim of immunity against libel suit

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services] -- The Arizona Court of Appeals refused a request by state Attorney General Terry Goddard (pictured) to throw out a libel lawsuit filed against him by developer George Johnson. The case stems from a February 2005 complaint filed by Goddard's office against Johnson and several of his companies in connection with efforts two years earlier to build a large residential community in southern Pinal County. The complaint also dealt with work along the banks of the Little Colorado River in Apache County.

In the lawsuit filed two years ago, Goddard's office, representing the state Department of Environmental Quality, accused Johnson of illegally using state and private land. He and his companies are charged with destroying Hohokam sites dating to A.D. 750 and killing more than 40,000 protected native plans including saguaro and ironwood on state trust lands. He also is charged with allowing sheep to graze on the land, causing an epidemic that killed 21 rare desert bighorn sheep. That case is pending.Johnson took offense to a news release that Goddard issued at the same time. In a counterclaim filed last year, Johnson asked the court to conclude that Goddard had libeled him and his companies. In his legal papers, Johnson expressed offense at several of Goddard's statements, including the attorney general's contention that Johnson and his companies committed "wanton destruction of Arizona's heritage resources." He wants $20 million for himself and his wife, and $10 million for each of two related entities. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]