A federal judge on Wednesday ruled against Sarah Palin, denying her request to be compensated for more than $22,000 in attorney fees she spent in a case against her that was dismissed last year. Juneau activist Chip Thoma had filed suit against Palin for acting to silence him from complaining about excessive tourist bus traffic around the governor's mansion in 2009. The debacle grew to involve her youngest daughter, Piper and a lemonade stand in front of the governor's mansion in Juneau.
The little incident involving Thoma was hardly more than a blip on the national radar, but it is perhaps the one event that best illustrates the attack dog mentality of the Palin administration when it perceived itself as being under fire, which was basically all the time.
If you have a copy of Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin (Simon & Schuster, 2011 by Frank Bailey, Ken Morris, and yours truly), you can flip to the Death Spiral section, specifically to chapter 33, "Them's Fightin' Words," for a full recap. Apparently, that's what Chip Thoma did, and based upon the revelations in the book, he filed suit against Palin for harassment, and impeding his first amendment rights. At the time, Palin was a very powerful and influential public figure, still in the governor's office, and he was just a guy who lived in Juneau.
Thoma claimed that Palin, while governor, attempted to "punish, embarrass, discredit and silence" him after he complained about bus tour traffic around the governor's mansion when Palin returned to Alaska, after her failed bid for the vice presidency in 2008.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess last year dismissed Thoma's case against Palin, saying he didn't provide the evidence necessary to support his claims, but conceded that the case was not wholly without "merit."
To back up his legal claims, Thoma had quoted the book Blind Allegiance, which revealed through Palin's own emails, and Bailey's recollection of the incident that Thoma had been singled out. However, the judge ruled that the quotes were inadmissible as hearsay, and that Thoma could not personally verify or authenticate passages in the book.
Palin's attorney, John Tiemessen, said in an email Wednesday that he respects Burgess' decision that Thoma's claim "did not meet the technical definition of 'wholly without merit.' We regret that there is not a stronger mechanism under Federal Law to discourage frivolous harassing recreational litigation against elected officials or former elected officials," he said.
What Palin's lawyer describes as "frivolous," "harassing," and "recreational" is precisely the tone with which the governor's office methodically calculated their attacks against Thoma in 2009.
After Palin returned from the campaign trail, she received a firestorm of criticism for not spending enough time in Juneau, a city she actively disliked. She had privately called the progressive-leaning capital city "evil" and a "hellhole." She worked extensively from home in Wasilla, or from her office in Anchorage. She rankled Alaskans by actually charging the state a per diem cost for staying in her own house in Wasilla. Her "lodging expenses" to sleep in her own bed cost the state more than $17,000. Even sitting legislators from both sides of the aisle found her absence inappropriate. Buttons that simply said, "Where's Sarah?" sprung up on lapel pins of lawmakers and their staff.
After the election, tourists suddenly wanted to see the governor's mansion and get a glimpse of the Palins. So, when local resident Chip Thoma complained about the excessive bus traffic and fumes in the narrow, winding streets around the governor's mansion, and put up a sign that said "Stop Local Tours," Palin came unglued. She jumped on the non-incident to show how she was "darned if she did, and darned if she didn't." The thought of ignoring it, or responding like a normal governor might, never occurred to her or her crew.
"Really? Is this a joke? ... kinda funny!" the first email from the governor (who was in Wasilla at the time) noted of Thoma's complaint. Later that night it started becoming less "funny" and another email was fired off to aide Ivy Frye saying, "Do they want the mansion moved to wasilla? Happy to do it if they push hard enough!" An hour later another email encouraged Frye to spread the word about Thoma.
"u can spread it to help shed light on the can't win/insanity."
Palin's default setting was always "how can I be victimized by this?" And if life was handing her lemons, doggone it, she'd see to it that her daughter Piper was going to make lemonade. The next day, Palin amped up her outrage even more, announcing to her spokesperson that Piper was going to start a lemonade stand in front of the governor's mansion because it would "really drive the neighbors crazy. It'll blend in with the trampoline that they may feel generates too much 'noise' (i.e. kids' laughter!) What a crew we live in the midst of down there."
Spokesperson Sharon Leighow got sucked in to Palin's imaginative portrayal and asked, "You are kidding -- someone complained about too much laughter?!?"
Seems some of the general consensus (from the Chip Thoma's of the world) is that we've degraded the place with the trampoline, buoy swing and bicycle in the yard 0 I can't attribute the gripes to any one person, it's just a general 'there goes the neighborhood' whine lately because more tourists (local and outside) are stopping by. Pretty ironic, because if these neighbors keep pushing hard enough (after they bitch and moan about us spending "too much time" in other parts of AK as I do my job) we'll be more than happy to set up shop where neighbors aren't so bugged having a First Family living nearby. Like Anchorage - could be nice.
Chip Thoma didn't mention laughter, but the "Chip Thoma's of the world" were sort of saying it. If he was complaining about traffic and bus fumes today, then surely it was a rapid and slippery slope to complaints about the laughter of children on trampolines tomorrow, because everyone in Juneau was out to get her, and they were just. that. evil.
Revenge lemonade is a drink best served cold and in a paper cup, so the lemonade stand was set up to anger the neighbors, with a sign saying proceeds would go to charity. The crew in Anchorage got an update.
"Piper made $43 at her lemonade stand here yesterday, and is donating it to the March of Dimes charity walk on Saturday. She says the next time she's not going to advertise it 'For Charity.' I don't blame her."
Despite protestations from Palin's spokesperson that she should just let it go, Sarah put her attack dog, aide Ivy Frye, on the case.
"Ivy - pls get this out bc it shows what a kangaroo court this is that we're trying to serve in."
Later, even after Palin admitted "It really doesn't have anything to do with Chip, per se... it's more a commentary on the insanity," the staff went in to full attack mode. Ivy Frye took pictures and began sending story ideas and information to the media. Former spokeswoman Meg Stapleton who was then working for SarahPAC wrote the governor that she'd contacted Sean Cockerham of the Anchorage Daily News with a heads up about Piper's adorable lemonade stand, and the horrible man next door who was complaining that the governor was in Juneau. "Anyway - this isn't from me - I don't want to get involved in state stuff. Just got a laugh... and thought you might enjoy," she told Cockerham.
Talking points were provided to the cheerleading blog Conservatives4Palin, resulting in a blog post titled "Juneau Resident Attempts to Close Down Piper Palin's Lemonade Stand." And so bus fumes turned into hatred of laughter, and active attempts by one individual to close down an 8-year old's lemonade stand. "It seems that Mr. Thoma doesn't enjoy the Palin children very much," the article said to its rabid Palin fan base.
That's how Chip Thoma became Palin hater, child hater, lemonade hater. Why, he even hated laughter itself, probably. Stories spread and conservative blogs began calling Thoma "sick," "unhinged," "a drunk," "drug-addicted," and "in need of therapy."
The hounds were unleashed, and the Palinbot hate mail began.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Palin herself was having a grand old time at Thoma's expense. After reading the Conservatives4Palin post, she wrote:
"This is hilarious! And pip's planning the stand again for the next sunny day... [Piper] made $44 for March of Dimes at the last one. This time she says she's keeping the $. Very cool."
This time they upped the ante with diet ice tea, and banana bread.
The media wars continued, with Palin lamenting that the story was getting "spun wrong" in local papers. But another site, Newsbusters publishing an article, "Palin Haters Livid at Juneau Tourism, Outraged Over Little Piper's Lemonade Stand."
The bus tours are so popular that adorable little Piper has even set up a lemonade stand to sell tourists a glass of lemony goodness to quench their thirst for something wet as well as something cute.
And Palin haters in Alaska are livid. They want the bus tours stopped and little Piper's stand razed to the ground. Palin Derangement Syndrome (PDS) strikes again. It's an ugly, ugly thing, this PDS and one man in particular is leading the charge but curiously enough his long past of agitation and his criminal record don't quite seem to be making any of the stories in the Old Media.
What sort of a sick man would attack a little girl's lemonade stand?
Palin managed to get a written quote she'd submitted to Cockerham published in the Anchorage Daily News:
"I wanted to offer him to hide Piper's trampoline further in a corner of the yard... if it's a matter of not giving anyone anything to look at so they'll go away then I'd ask Piper to not giggle so loudly on her buoy swing or bicycle in the yard."
And so the complaint of bus traffic successfully became the fantasy drama of child persecution, attributed to one resident -- Chip Thoma. Misinformation was doled out to the media for the purpose of silencing not only Thoma, but anyone else who might criticize the governor for her presence, or for her lack of presence in Juneau. The minions were at the ready, to be called out on a vicious personal attack that let the governor keep her hands clean.
Bailey recalls in his memoir:
Thoma was quoted as saying, "She is obvioulsy coming after me, and I've never met her before." Our reaction to that line - aside from smiling at the man's misery - was, "You betcha we're coming after you."
For the days we wasted on discrediting Thoma, we cared about little else and nothing about him; critics ceased being human beings worthy of sympathy once we attacked. By the time we finished with our politics of destruction, he surely regretted ever mentioning the governor's name. He learned firsthand why so few people were willing to speak out against Sarah Palin. The costs were enormous. At Sarah's direction we had managed to construct a story with almost no basis in fact that painted her and her daughter Piper as victims. In what I can only now describe as a shameful waste, this is what we did more than anything in all our years together, go after those we didn't agree with, or simply didn't like. Alaska deserved better of us.
In October, Burgess had ordered that Palin recover costs, but on Wednesday denied her request for attorney fees. In his written decision, he said that courts are limited in ruling that defendants may recover attorney fees to those situations where claims against them were found to be "frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation." But in this case, he said, the court did not conclude that this case was frivolous, but noting the limited record, and that neither party engaged in discovery.
"It's nice to be told you weren't frivolous," Thoma's attorney, James McGowan, said. He noted that the lawsuit was aimed at "vindicating" Thoma's First Amendment right.
Tiemessen and the state of Alaska represented Palin in the suit because the case stemmed from her time as governor. Tiemessen was quoted as saying that Palin had no plans to pursue costs any further.
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