San Luis Obispo environmental scientist defamed in newspaper article. $1.1 million. San Luis Obispo County.


Activist local news publication runs defamatory story about local man and his business, refuses demand for retraction. 

The Case

  • Case Name: Charles Tenborg v. CalCoastNews/, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: San Luis Obispo Superior Court / CV130237
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, March 23, 2017
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, May 10, 2013
  • Type of Case: Defamation
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Barry T. Labarbera
  • Plaintiffs:
    Charles Tenborg, 48, environmental scientist.
  • Defendants:
    CalCoastNews/ LLC
    Karen Velie
    Daniel Blackburn
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,100,000
  • General Damages: $600,000
  • Punitive Damages: $500,000
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days.
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 liability, 11-1 damages.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP by  James Wagstaffe and Ivo Labar, San Francisco.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    James Duenow, San Luis Obispo.

    Berndt Ingo Brauer, San Jose.

    Law Offices of David S Vogel by David Vogel, San Luis Obispo.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Venise Wagner, journalism, San Francisco.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Bill Loving, journalism, San Luis Obispo.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Defendants Velie and Blackburn were senior corespondents with defendant newspaper.  On November 14, 2012 defendants published a story claiming plaintiff was fired from a government job, and through his business Eco Solutions engaged in illegal no-bid contracts and illegally transported hazardous waste. Plaintiff demanded a retraction, but no such retraction was published.  Defendant Cal Coast News is a small, local newspaper known for investigative journalism.  The libelous article was printed in the newspaper and published on its Website.

    Kerr & Wagstaffe, on behalf of Tenborg, defeated defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion in 2015 (Tenborg v. CalCoastNews et al., 2015 WL 4537168). The case proceeded to trial on March 6, 2017.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Mr. Tenborg is an environmental scientist and well-respected local businessman. He has worked for years to protect the environment in San Luis Obispo County by ensuring proper transportation, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes. In 2012, defendants published a malicious, defamatory, and false article about Mr. Tenborg.  He claimed that the article damaged his 15 year-old business, forcing him to sell it.

    Defendants falsely claimed that plaintiff had previously been fired from a government job, was wrongfully obtaining no-bid contracts with local government for his private company in violation of state law, and was illegally transporting hazardous waste. The article also juxtaposed a picture of radioactive waste next to Tenborg’s photo, even though Tenborg and his company never handled radioactive waste. Defendants refused to retract the story even when its outright and easily verifiable falsehoods were brought to their immediate attention.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants denied any defamation and stood by their story, relying on truth as their defense.  Defendant Velie claimed she had lost her notes due to a computer malfunction, and that two of the sources for the story had died.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: None.
  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: Plaintiff demanded a full retraction and stipulated judgment of $250,000. Defendant made no response.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: None.