Judge denies reconsideration of Rule vs. Swart suit

<p>Rick Swart</p>

Rick Swart, former editor and publisher of the Wallowa County Chieftain, won another round in court April 8 when a Seattle judge turned down true crime writer Ann Rule’s attempt to have the judge reconsider the February dismissal of Rule’s defamation suit against Swart.

The motion to reconsider “is an attempt to have a second bite of the apple by seeking to relitigate this matter,” King County Superior Court Judge Laura Inveen said in her order denying the motion.

Rule had sued Swart in connection with a Seattle Weekly article, published in July 2011, titled “Ann Rule’s Sloppy Storytelling.”

Rule filed 13 declarations in support of her Motion for Reconsideration of Orders of Dismissal “all containing facts that were clearly known to plaintiff and/or her counsel at the time of the initial motion,” according to the order denying the motion, signed by Judge Inveen.

In the order, Inveen criticized Rule’s “attempt to interject new facts in to the matter, much of which are irrelevant and appear to be designed to appeal to the passion, prejudice and sympathy of the reader, whether it be the judge, or anticipated wider audience.”

The order added that all of the facts were or should have been known at the time of the initial motion, and introducing them now was procedurally improper. The order stated that declarations filed in support of the motion for reconsideration, as well as any facts not before the court at the time of the initial motion, will not be considered.

Rule, her attorney Anne Bremner, Liysa Northon’s former defense attorney Pat Birmington and former Wallowa County district attorney Dan Ousley were among those making the declarations.

Swart’s article, which resulted in Rule’s original defamation suit, attacked Rule and her book “Heart Full of Lies” for the portrayal of Liysa Northon as a villain. At that time Northon was serving 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter for killing her husband Chris Northon in a Lostine Canyon campground in 2000. In his “Sloppy Storytelling” article, Swart made a case that Liysa Northon was instead the victim of domestic abuse and was further victimized by the justice system.

In October 2011 Northon and Swart were married inside prison; she was released in 2012 and they make their home in rural Eagle Creek.

Seattle Weekly, former editor Caleb Hannan, and Village Voice Media, which owned the newspaper at the time of the article, were also defendants in Rule’s suit.

The Rule lawsuit alleged Swart’s article contained innumerable inaccuracies and untruths and unfounded personal attacks. The judge dismissed it under Washington state’s anti-SLAPP statute that protects against lawsuits intended to punish free speech.

In dismissing the suit in February, Inveen awarded Swart and the other defendants $10,000 each in damages, plus attorney fees and costs.

Swart said this week that he has submitted a claim for approximately $65,000 in fees and costs, while Seattle Weekly has submitted a claim of approximately $120,000, and the judge should rule soon on those claims.

“Inveen did not need to do this level of reasons for the denial, but likely did so as a signal to the appellate court of how this plaintiff operates,” Swart said about the April 8 ruling. “I appreciate her pointed order to Bremner and her client.”

Rule has filed a notice to appeal in the Washington Appeals Court.

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