Lawmakers receive no response from Hill lawyer who made legal threat

2013-06-20T00:00:00Z 2013-07-17T07:30:07Z Lawmakers receive no response from Hill lawyer who made legal threatBy JOSHUA WOLFSON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — An attorney for Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill has yet to follow through with legal action against a state lawmaker he accused of libel.

In April, attorney Robert DiLorenzo gave Rep. Rosie Berger 10 days to retract a paper that he claimed defamed Hill. The deadline passed without a retraction, and in the two months that followed, Berger and a second lawmaker involved with the report haven’t heard anything from DiLorenzo, they said in separate interviews Wednesday.

“Considering we were able to establish that all of the information that we put in that (paper) was public information and had been vetted through hearings and process, I would hope it’s behind me and our leadership,” said Berger, a Republican representing Sheridan County. “Time will tell.”

Hill would not comment when asked about the matter. She referred a Star-Tribune reporter to DiLorenzo, who did not respond to phone messages on four occasions during the past eight days. Nor did he reply to three emails from the newspaper.

The attorney sent Berger an April 15 letter accusing her of authoring and publishing a “libelous” report on the law that transferred most of the superintendent’s duties to a governor-appointed education director. Three lawmakers are listed as authors of the 32-page white paper. Berger is not.

DiLorenzo, a Tea Party organizer who unsuccessfully ran for the Legislature last year, sought proof of eight statements in the report.

“Should we not hear from you within ten days, we will take all legal steps necessary to protect the reputation and integrity of our client,” he wrote.

Berger and the paper’s authors -- Reps. Tim Stubson, Tom Lubnau and Mary Throne -- responded through their own attorney four days later. They noted the report was backed up by 26 footnotes and called the libel threat an attempt to intimidate them from speaking out on a public issue.

Neither Berger nor Stubson received a response from DiLorenzo, either in the form of a lawsuit or another letter. But Stubson said the threat of legal action did chill debate among some lawmakers -- at least for a time.

“My real fear, and this happened, you had some legislators out there at some public meetings who were concerned about talking … because they were afraid of these threats,” the Natrona County Republican said. “I think that has faded. People are back out talking to their constituents and visiting about this issue.”

Berger said the letter did not affect her willingness to speak on public issues.

“I have already tried very diligently to provide my constituents with the information that I have,” she said.

Lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that removed the superintendent as head of the state’s education department. After Gov. Matt Mead signed it into law, Hill filed a lawsuit claiming the changes violated the Wyoming Constitution.

A state judge denied her request to halt implementation of the law and the case is now before the Wyoming Supreme Court.

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