BILLINGS COUNTY, ND — A libel lawsuit brought by former Billings County Commission Chairman Jim Arthaud against popular blogger and former North Dakota Tourism Division Director Jim Fuglie pits two well-known personalities against each other. known from western North Dakota in a non-criminal case centered on defamation of character. .
Over the years, Fuglie’s website, The Prairie Blog, in which he was a vocal opponent of the Billings County Commission’s attempts to build a bridge over the Little Missouri River, gained ground on the Western Edge . In his blog, Fuglie called the attempts to move forward with a bridge project a “dumb, stupid, selfish idea.”
In his blog, Fuglie argued that the bridge would harm the ecosystem of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, through road dust and wildlife disturbance.
Now, years after a blog made allegedly “false”, “defamatory” and “insulting” statements about Arthaud, the former chairman of the Billings County commission is suing.
Arthaud, along with past and current commissioners, have been strong supporters of the bridge project, citing it as a necessity to provide a more accessible transportation route for oil companies and tourists. Additionally, the commission says the bridge would provide the county with a crucial roadway for emergency services to reach the rural communities they serve.
Subjected to hatred, contempt and ridicule
In a particular article, titled “A Bridge to Nowhere” published on August 2, 2018, Fuglie presented a history of the proposed bridge site and allegedly suggested that Arthaud’s motives behind the project were tied to his business interests. Fuglie further noted Arthaud’s active involvement and generous donations to Republican causes, using it to level an anecdotal accusation against him.
“Arthaud knows how to deal with politicians. Here is a story from a friend of a friend of a friend. Someone was in Arthaud’s office and needed something from Senator John Hoeven. Arthaud picked up the phone, called Hoeven’s office in Washington, DC, phoned Hoeven, got what his friend needed, hung up and said, “That’s what $20,000 will get you,” Fuglie wrote in the post.
North Dakota has a two-year statute of limitations on any defamation suit, unless the alleged offense is unknown to the person in question.
Arthaud’s legal file indicates that he did not become aware of this message until September 2021, three years after it was published.
Arthaud’s attorneys Lawrence Bender, Mark W. Vyvyan, and Spencer D. Ptacek of the law firm Bismarck Fredrikson & Byron, PA, claim the content of the article constitutes libel and have filed a civil suit against Fuglie. in the North South Central District Court. Dakota in Burleigh County.
“Fuglie’s statement is false. Arthaud never used campaign contributions to improperly influence Senator Hoeven and he never boasted of such undue influence,” Bender wrote in a formal court complaint on Oct. 5, 2021. “The statement by Fuglie is also defamatory. official and boasting of the same subjected Arthaud to hatred, contempt and ridicule, and, on information and belief, injured Arthaud in his craft.
In defense of the defamation allegation, Arthaud’s attorney argues that Fuglie acted with real malice in knowingly publishing a false statement or at the very least showing a reckless disregard for the truth in quoting a nameless connection thrice removed from itself as source.
Arthaud exercised his right to a jury trial and requested it through his legal filing.
Motion to dismiss and protected speech
Fuglie’s attorney, Chris Edison of the law firm Bismarck Bormann, Myerchin, Espeseth & Edison, LLP, filed a response to the complaint on October 25, 2021. In the response, Edison argues that Fuglie admits to making the statement aforementioned, as well as calling the proposed bridge a “big embarrassment”. They acknowledge and admit to referring to it as Arthaud’s “brainchild”, which Fuglie claims Arthaud pushed for the project for over 15 years. Edison argues that each of these statements contains speech protected by the North Dakota Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights.
Additionally, in a brief filed January 24, 2022 in support of Fuglie’s motion to dismiss the case, Edison cites North Dakota law regarding the statute of limitations for defamation claims. Fuglie’s lawyer says the litigation is a frivolous attempt to circumvent time barriers established by law and says the post was in public view and it is not unreasonable to expect that Arthaud knew of its existence.
Fuglie declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, saying the courts will hear arguments and issue their decision. Attempts to reach Arthaud for comment were unsuccessful.
Proceedings in the trial are still ongoing and a jury trial is scheduled to begin on October 11.