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Attorney for former public works head threatens defamation suit against critic

An attorney for former Montesano public works supervisor Russ Burke has threatened a defamation lawsuit against Montesano resident Emery Haggin if the former coach doesn’t print an apology because of online comments Haggin made about Burke on Facebook and other venues online.

Haggin has been supportive of Mayor Ken Estes because he feels that Burke was rightfully terminated. That has led to some heated exchanges online.

“Anyone, with an ounce of intelligence, reading the account of the Hoquiam Police Department’s report in The Vidette knows Burke is guilty as sin,” Haggin wrote online back in June after Burke was accused of stealing city paint. A prosecutor later declined to press charges.

“Remember, O.J. Simpson wasn’t convicted of murdering his wife, but we all knew he was guilty,” Haggin added at the time.

Attorney Trevor Osborne, representing Burke in his termination proceedings with the state Employment Security division and a lawsuit in Superior Court, cited that specific comment as something that “constitutes actionable defamation.”

Osborne explained in a Jan. 16 letter to Haggin that “defamation is a false statement communicated to others that causes damage to the subject of the communication. … Several aspects of your comment are false, the statement was publicly communicated via Facebook and has harmed Mr. Burke’s reputation and potentially his business prospects as well.”

Haggin told The Vidette that Osborne demanded an apology be printed in a future issue of The Vidette and that Haggin submit the apology to the attorney first for approval.

“I refused to do it,” Haggin said. “The threat was they would be suing me by the end of the week if I didn’t do it. Nothing’s come of it since.”

Haggin says he did contact the city of Montesano about the threat. Haggin was set to be a witness for the city in Burke’s appeal of his unemployment claims being denied. Burke’s attorney had alleged that one of the reasons Burke was terminated was political payback because Burke supported the mayor’s opponent during the mayoral election. Haggin was set to be a witness before the administrative law judge to help prove that just wasn’t so.

“The city sent a letter to Burke’s people that said they were to stop intimidating me,” Haggin said.

City Administrator Kristy Powell said that letter wasn’t turned over to The Vidette in a recent public records request because it was attorney-client privilege.

“As far as I’m concerned, that attorney was blackmailing me,” Haggin said. “I have no intention of apologizing. I’m entitled to my opinion and I stated it. It was in response to ridiculous charges that people had made against the mayor. The mayor is doing what is best for this city and I stand by him.”