This post is part of the SLAPP-HAPPY series on who files Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) or other bullying or harassing lawsuits and whether they are consistent with the Codes of Professional Conduct established by the firm, state bar associations and governmental oversight agencies. It’s also part of our series on Liars & Bullies and Two Harbors, MN digital franchise marketing services agency PureDriven. by Sean Kelly
(UnhappyFranchisee.Com) This week, the Two Harbors, MN city council voted to move forward with the resign-or-recall process its citizens have initiated to try to oust its embattled mayor Christopher Swanson. The citizens of tiny town of Two Harbors (pop. 3,570) have clearly had enough of a mayor who promised a focus on infrastructure improvements but instead focused on trying to raise $400M for an underwater luxury hotel in Lake Superior (“The 8th Wonder of Lake Superior”), to convert the town economy to crypto-currency and to promoting his own companies (PureDriven, Garage Starts, RaiseItFast.Com, etc.) and non-profit ventures (Such as the National Civility Association).
Independent journalist John Ramos, publisher of the Duluth Monitor, provided a diligently researched expose on the shadowy, anonymous and supposed reclusive billionaire named “Mr. O” whom Mayor Swanson promoted as his mentor, consultant and backer. Swanson involved Mr. O in a meeting with the Two Harbor development committee to support his underwater hotel project (which included a proposed helipad & a submarine) and appeared on his “Ask a Billionaire” podcast. Ramos’ research seems to reveal that Mr. O’s true identity is actually that of Daniel Victor Hancock, a convicted thief , con-man and likely non-billionaire.
The revelations in Ramos’ Unmasking Mr. O, if true, were hugely embarrassing for Christopher Swanson and would likely affect his credibility for life. The self-professed savvy entrepreneur had, in essence, been catfished by the domestic equivalent of that deposed Nigerian dictator and billionaire living in your spam folder. However, as far as I know, Swanson has not disputed Ramos’ research on Mr. O, nor has he (or Mr. O) sued Ramos regarding the accuracy of that embarrassing report.
Instead, Mayor Chris Swanson and his attorney Brendan Tupa of Droel law firm in Minneapolis, decided to file a defamation suit against John Ramos & the Duluth Monitor over a March 9, 2022 blog post titled Mayor Swanson promoted own businesses 97 times on city Twitter account.
Here’s the complaint submitted by Brendan Tupa seeking more than $50,000: Christopher Swanson v. John L. Ramos and Duluth Monitor LLC
In it, John Ramos documented how Mayor Swanson promoted his own businesses 97 time on his city Twitter account.
He provided a link to the mayor’s twitter account so his readers could verify, or dispute, his assertion.
While Ramos has left his blog post up, Chris Swanson has deleted his entire Twitter feed.
Is Droel Betting its Reputation on a Likely Soon-to-be-Former-Mayor
Since Swanson is a public official, to prove defamation Brendan Tupa knows he would have to successfully prove not only that John Ramos’ statements were false, but Ramos knew they were false when he published them.
Both Brendan Tupa and Chris Swanson were likely aware that this is an impossible standard, since the statements are obviously NOT false, but they filed the defamation lawsuit anyway.
In my opinion, Tupa and Swanson are abusing the legal system and knowingly violating the 1st Amendment rights of a journalist and private citizen both as a reprisal for reporting the truth and as a warning to chill future investigations into Swanson’s conduct.
It seems to me that this cynical abuse of our most-treasured constitutional rights surely must be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that Brendan Tupa agreed to as an attorney representing Droel PLLC and as a member of the Minnesota Bar.
However, I am a journalist and past SLAPP target, not an attorney or judge, and am open to the possibility that I am incorrect.
I am consistently amazed at how even my hardened cynicism continues to be proven to be overly optimistic.
So I will ask the experts… Starting with the Droel law firm.
Droel PLLC: Does Brendan Tupa’s Swanson v. Ramos Complaint Meet the Firm’s Ethical Standards?
Droel Law, based in Minneapolis, MN, claims to be the premier law firm for “utility-scale renewable energy, real estate & development, construction, business, and employment & labor law practice areas.” Droel PLLLC also lists an office in Houston, Texas.
While the Droel law firm website does not specifically reference having a code of ethics or standard of professional conduct, it does claim to follow the basic principles of “honesty, integrity, responsiveness, and providing quality legal services.” We assume the Droel law firm would also profess to following the ethical standards of the Minnesota Bar association and state and federal laws regarding professional conduct.
As part of our series on SLAPPS and potential SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) and our research into who files them and how they view them, we are sending a series of short questions to the firm itself, and to each of the 10 attorneys on the Droel website:
- TIM L. DROEL,
- BOSTON R. DROEL,
- HOUSTON M. DROEL,
- ASMA AHMED,
- STEPHEN F. BUTERIN,
- JOSEPH P. HAASE,
- ANDREW T. HOOYMAN,
- DANIEL J. WILCOX,
- EBONY YOUNG FAIR and
- BRENDAN R. TUPA
7 Questions Submitted to Droel PLLC and its Attorneys
The questions are:
1) Does Droel have a stated code of ethics or rules of professional conduct that its attorneys and staff agree to uphold?
2) Is there a system in place to ensure that litigation initiated by Droel law firm attorneys is reviewed prior to filing to make sure it adheres to the firms standards as well as applicable laws and Bar Association guidelines?
3) Does Droel PLLC have a stated policy regarding the filing of SLAPPs or any frivolous lawsuit, ie one with little or no legal merit, filed for the purpose of silencing a critic, suppressing free speech, bullying, intimidating or draining the resources of a Defendant on behalf of a client for revenge or reprisal?
4) Does Brendan Tupa’s defamation lawsuit on behalf of public figure Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson against private citizen & journalist John Ramos meet or exceed the practical & ethical standards of Droel law?
5) Mr. Tupa’s complaint indicates that he’s aware that for the lawsuit to be considered viable, he would have to provide a reasonable argument for “actual malice” against journalist John Ramos. This seems an impossible standard since 1) Ramos’ statements aren’t false and, 2) even if they were there is no doubt he believed them to be true. Has Droel considered that Mr. Swanson’s lawsuit is a SLAPP intended as payback for “Unmasking” his associate, Mr. O, as a convicted felon and/or sending a warning to those who might openly question or criticize elected official Swanson in the future?
6) Has Mr. Tupa’s 77-page complaint against City of Two Harbors, City Clerk Patricia Nordean, Two Harbors City Council, Interim City Administrator Joel Dhein, Resign or Recall Committee, Todd Ronning, Toni Wangen, David Popilek, Judith Olson, and Thomas Koehler been similarly vetted and determined to meet Droel’s practical and ethical standards? Is it an acceptable practice to have John Doe & Jane Doe Plaintiffs in a case arguing, in part, against the right to remain anonymous in a city proceeding?
7) Despite Brendan Tupa’s lawsuit against the city, Two Harbors city council has voted to proceed with the resign-or-recall process, in accordance with its Charter, that will allow residents to decide whether they want Chris Swanson to continue as their mayor. If Brendan Tupa decides to continue to disrupt and/or delay this democratic process on the mayor’s behalf (via john Doe) with continued litigation and procedural delays, will Droel support his effort to undermine the will of Two Harbors residents.
The questions are not to be meant as accusatory. I genuinely hope the leadership and attorneys at the Droel law firm can explain why what seems like a misuse of the legal system and bullying tactics by the rich to subvert the 1st Amendment is, to them, justifiable and within professional ethics.
More on Chris Swanson:
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TAGS: PureDriven, PureDriven Digital Marketing, Jason Sunday, Franchise Marketing, Christopher Swanson, Chris Swanson, Mayor Chris Swanson, Two Harbors MN, Brendan Tupa, TIM DROEL,
BOSTON DROEL, HOUSTON DROEL, Brendan L. Tupa, Droel Law, SLAPP, Frivolous Lawsuits, Liars & Bullies series, Sean Kelly