Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Hauser Homes in Financial Trouble?

Brian McNeill reports in today’s Daily Progress that Robert Hauser Homes appears to be in some financial trouble. One homebuilder is suing Hauser, alleging that Hauser was contractually obligated to buy $2.56M in lots, but didn’t, and the builder is now stuck with the land (and mortgage payments). And one of the developers behind Old Trail has sued Hauser over a similar matter, in that case nine lots worth $1.4M. And a county flooring company went after Hauser in court for unpaid bills, though that’s since been sorted out. Like many local businesses (especially developers), they’ve laid off employees, shut down one of their offices, and dramatically scaled back construction plans. Bob Hauser tells McNeill that “it’s been slow…it’s been very challenging.”

This is something I’ve had my eye on for a while now. To my eye, Hauser was hugely overextended when the bubble burst. They’d expanded to construction in developments near Fredericksburg (Fawn Lake and Somerset, if memory serves) while riding the bubble hard here in town. I’ve worked with and gotten estimates from a bunch of guys in the construction business in the past year, and more than a few have told me that they’re hurting because of outstanding debts from Hauser.

Christmas in Charlottesville, 1950s-60s

Courtesy of the Albemarle County Historical Society, from the Russell “Rip” Payne Collection. Merry Christmas!

The Hook Sued for Defamation

The Hook is being sued for defamation, Tasha Kates writes in this morning’s Daily Progress, by an aggrieved subject of articles in the weekly. Thomas Lightfoot Garrett—he goes by “Tommy”—is a publicist, author, chicken farmer, radio show host, Buckingham County resident, and relentless self-promoter, but he’s also been charged with forgery and convicted of “entering the property of another with the intention of damaging it. It’s the latter two points that earned him coverage in The Hook.The Progress says that Garrett is suing the paper and staff writers Lindsay Barnes and Courteney Stuart:

According to the complaint, the first claim of defamation against all three defendants relates to the alternative newsweekly’s coverage of forgery charges filed against Garrett in Buckingham. The complaint claims that Barnes “lampoons Garrett and his attorney over one matter or another” with stories about Garrett’s court case and existence of a magazine cover story on Garrett.

The suit’s second count of defamation, which is only against Better Publications and Stuart, claims Stuart’s April 24 article on Garrett’s plea deal made false statements about the facts of the case.

He wants $5.7M, $5M of that in punitive damages.

Tracking down Courteney Stuart’s article wasn’t a problem, but I can’t find any article about Garrett by Lindsay Barnes. [3:00 PM Update: Here it is, from February 1 of this year.] Garrett seems to be describing Stuart’s April 22, 2008 blog entry in his first claim of defamation. (Kates’ article in the DP didn’t address the substance of the claims, or even compare Garrett’s complaint with the original articles, so I’m on my own here. Note that the text of the lawsuit is not available; the DP has it, but not The Hook, and the daily wouldn’t share their copy with the weekly.) Without knowing specifically what Garrett alleges to be inaccurate, it’s tough to know whether his suit has any grounding in fact. Though with regard to his first complaint, about being “lampooned,” it’s awfully tough to envision any basis in law for such a complaint.

I asked Hook editor Hawes Spencer about Garrett’s complaint. He told me:

As you know, there have been a few times when we have gotten things wrong in a story. Typically, the subject telephones or emails, and besides offering a profuse verbal apology, we run an earnest correction. However, I’ve never received so much as a single phone call or email from Garrett or his lawyers telling me what we might have done wrong. […] I am particularly surprised to be sued when no effort has been made to tell me how our paper might have defamed this person.

Spencer went on to explain that he’d received a letter from another attorney about Garrett back in August, but that Spencer’s request for specifics about factual inaccuracies went unanswered. Compare that with Jesse Sheckler’s successful lawsuit against NBC-29 a few years ago—the poor guy was reported to have been indicted on a cocaine possession conspiracy charge, and despite his requests, the station wouldn’t run a correction. He won a $10M judgment, and rightly so.

Proving libel requires a) the complainant was identified b) the information was defamatory towards the complainant’s reputation c) the information was false, and d) it’s the respondent’s fault. But libel and slander case law (notably New York Times Co. v. Sullivan) has established a basically impossibly-high bar to clear to prove defamation against a famous figure: actual malice must be proved, meaning that the information must be published with reckless disregard for th truth. Garrett almost certainly qualifies as a public figure, given his TV appearances, books published (fiction and nonfiction), high-profile media coverage, etc., which means that the odds of him succeeding in such a lawsuit are vanishingly slim, even if The Hook published inaccurate information.

I can sympathize with The Hook in their continued coverage of him. In writing this blog entry this afternoon, it’s impossible to ignore the really sketchy aspects about this guy. Seriously, look at this magazine that he claims to have been on the cover of. This was obviously patched together in Microsoft Paint. It just screams “bad photoshop job.” (The fact that the magazine doesn’t seem to exist doesn’t help any.) Then there’s his PR firm’s website, hosted on Angelfire. Remember them? The free website hosting service from the mid-90s? Used primary to host webpages for middle school girls professing their love for boy bands? That’s where his company’s website is, at the address Though the site claims to be at, that domain is unregistered. In short, Garrett looks like a train wreck in slow motion, and I get that The Hook is just watching and waiting for his big finish.

A friend once told me that you’re nobody in this town until you threaten to sue Hawes Spencer. There might be something to that. The thing is, though, you’ve got to stop at the threat. I guess Garrett didn’t get that memo.

Schilling’s Show Cancelled

Saga Communications has cancelled Rob Schilling’s Saturday-morning show on WINA, Bryan McKenzie writes in today’s Daily Progress. The conservative talker and former Charlotteville City Councilor’s daily show has been airing for two years, Monday through Saturday. It’s one of just four shows being produced at WINA now, along with their morning show, Coy Barefoot’s afternoon show, and their “Best Seat in the House” sports show.

The Michigan-based Saga bought Eure Communications’ stations in 2004, which was when it became clear that change was coming to 3WV, WINA, and Z95, and not for the better. Station management wasn’t available to comment by the Progress’ press deadline, so Schilling himself is the source of the story. His show will be replaced with the Laura Ingraham Show. Whatever one thinks of Schilling or his show, there’s no doubt that the area is better served by his local show than a nationally-syndicated one.

Gary O’Connell: Person of the Year

The Hook has decided to start naming a “Person of the Year” annually, and for this first year, they’ve named City Manager Gary O’Connell. Lindsay Barnes writes:

He’s the CEO of one of Central Virginia’s biggest companies, administering a $162 million annual budget and supervising over 900 employees. Like any CEO, he has a board that stakes out policy positions, but he’s the one who makes things happen. Those facts in and of themselves are enough to make Gary O’Connell a contender for “Person of the Year” any year.

However, this year, perhaps more than any other in his 14-year tenure as Charlottesville City Manager, has found O’Connell at the center of several larger-than-usual controversies.

Much of the piece is turned over to O’Connell “to let him talk about issues, respond to critics, and make the case that he’s consistently given City Council the best possible advice.” The runners-up, incidentally, were Congressman-elect Tom Perriello, Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford, businessman James Murray, Bill Crutchfield, and Olympian Lindsay Shoop.



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