Aspen Times sued by anonymous source
December 11, 2003
A former Snowmass Village town planner who was fired after The Aspen Times published statements she made under condition of anonymity has filed a lawsuit against the newspaper.Carolyn Poissant spoke to a Times reporter in October, expressing serious concerns over the proposed Base Village project in Snowmass Village, and alleging that “back-room negotiations” were taking place. She agreed to speak on the record after the newspaper promised her identity would be protected.The article published on Oct. 7 didn’t identify Poissant by name, but the article did state that the source of the comments was both a town planner in Snowmass Village and a female.Poissant was the only woman working as a Snowmass town planner at the time. She was placed on unpaid administrative leave immediately after the article appeared, and was fired on Oct. 15.The lawsuit, filed in Pitkin County District Civil Court on Monday, asks for a jury trial and unspecified damages and attorney fees.According to the lawsuit, Poissant “detrimentally relied upon the various statements, promises and pledges made to her by the defendant that she would not be identified and that information would not be used that would clearly identify her.”She also claims that she suffered loss of wages and benefits, and has suffered emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment as a result of the article and her subsequent unemployment.The case lists numerous claims for relief, including breach of contract, outrageous conduct and negligence. Poissant claims that the Times’ conduct was “outrageous, willful and wanton, and in reckless disregard of [her] rights and feelings.”Poissant and her attorney, Sandy Karp of Leavenworth & Karp in Glenwood Springs, did not return calls for comment.Aspen Times publisher Jenna Weatherred said, “We regret the situation as it has unfolded and want to resolve the plaintiff’s concerns in a timely and equitable manner.”According to the lawsuit, after the initial article was published, Weatherred apologized to Poissant. The suit quotes Weatherred as saying, “I probably should not even be saying this, but we made a big mistake and are doing some serious soul searching because we don’t want to lose our sources.”The suit also cites a follow-up article that ran on Oct. 8 in The Aspen Times about Poissant being placed on unpaid administrative leave. In the article, Times associate editor Allyn Harvey was quoted as saying the newspaper regretted the incident.According to Tom Kelley, attorney for The Aspen Times, the statements made by Weatherred and Harvey do not lend credence to Poissant’s claims.”I think it’s just the opposite – it’s an acknowledgement that even good people doing their jobs the best they can are capable of human error, and that’s what this case is about,” he said. “It suggests good faith both before and after this thing occurred, and they regret that this thing didn’t work out the way it should have. Culpability is something the court has to sort out.”Kelley said he has seen similar cases before, some of which have resulted in damages awarded to the plaintiff. He said The Times will try to settle the case before it goes to trial.”Given the opportunities we have, we’ll do our best to do the right thing for a settlement,” he said. “If we’re unable to settle, the court will have to sort the case out.”Kelley did not want to comment on the specifics of the case, because it might possibly result in a jury trial in Aspen.