Updated January 13, 2006 Compiled & written by Mike Fitzpatrick
Action Wisconsin Wins $87,000 In Storms’ Lawsuit
Louisiana Preacher Will Appeal Decision In Ovadal-Inspired Suit - Lawyers To Get Winnings
Madison - Wisconsin’s largest gay rights group has been awarded $87,000 in attorneys’ fees by a judge who verbally spanked a Louisiana “pastor” and his lawyer for bringing a frivolous lawsuit claiming the group defamed him.
Grant Storms had claimed in the lawsuit that Action Wisconsin defamed him by saying remarks he made at the “First International Conference on Homo-Fascism,” advocated the murder of gays. The day-long conference was held in Milwaukee in October, 2003 and sponsored by the now-defunct Wisconsin Christians United.
But in a ruling last week, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Patricia McMahon said the AW’s interpretation of the remarks was reasonable and the lawsuit lacked merit from the day it was filed in February 2004. The judge also blasted Storms’ lawyer, James Donohoo of Milwaukee, saying he should have known the complaint was a waste of time.
However, the judge likely was unaware - on the record at least - of Donohoo’s previous association with the primogenitor of the AW lawsuit: self-ordained “pastor” Ralph Ovadal. Ovadal, who now operates the self-identified “independent, unlicensed” Pilgrim’s Covenant Church (PCC) in Monroe, sponsored the anti-gay event.
As Quest reported last July, the genesis of the Storms lawsuit followed an ironic and, some might say, almost comic path. Following the lightly attended 2003 Homo Fascism conference, WCU reported on its website on October 14 that turnout at the event “included nine pastors, a state senator, a police officer, and a number of ministry leaders” and offered for sale an audio disc of the conference speeches. Two weeks later on October 22, the “Reality Check” column in the gay publication Wisconsin INStep reported that the state senator in question was “freshman Republican Tom Reynolds, not exactly a new convert to the extremist right.”
The dual information led then AW board President Tim O’Brien to order a copy of the conference speeches, which O’Brien listened to in full, and AW Executive Director Christopher Ott listened to in part. Both men were named as co-defendants in the Storm suit.
Ott later wrote a letter to then Senate Majority leader Mary Panzer requesting her to “to investigate, identify, and discipline the state senator “ who attended the conference. Ott included excerpts of the Storms speech and wrote “the attendance of a state senator at this conference is similar to a senator attending a Ku Klux Klan rally or neo-Nazi conference, and should receive tremendous scrutiny - especially at a time when legislators are advocating a constitutional amendment targeted at gay people.”
The December 8 AW press release about the Panzer letter contained similar excerpts from Storms’ speech such as “They [gays] want to kill you;” “There is a philistine army out there. It’s called the homosexual movement, whether you can see it or not, understand it or not, they want to eliminate us;” and “God has delivered them into our hands, Hallelujah – Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom [like gun fire] – There’s twenty! Grant also made comments that suggested his supporters go to a fast-food restaurant for a quick meal before continuing the allegedly metaphorical massacre.
On December 8 & 9, WCU responded to the AW press release claiming that “we had expectations that the homosexual propagandists would prove our point about homo-fascism by screaming bloody murder and making all sorts of wild accusations.” A third WCU press release on December 10 promised “Action Wisconsin Will Be Held Legally Accountable for Vicious Attack upon Christian Pastor.” A later WCU newsletter advised Ovadal was assisting Storms in arranging for a Wisconsin attorney. Donohoo had represented WCU in earlier cases.
Storms responded to McMahon’s award decision on January 11 by claiming that any contention that he was advocating the murder of gays is “ludicrous and ridiculous.” He also labeled the judge “liberal” and “insane.”
“I was saying, the Christian community needs to go forward and stand against the homosexual agenda,” he said, vowing to appeal the decision. “We’ll win this case and we’ll win the cultural war. We have God on our side.”
Donohoo also said he would appeal the awarding of attorneys’ fees, claiming the lawsuit was not frivolous. Ovadal also reinserted himself into the fray January 12 with a press release on the PCC website.
Action Wisconsin’s lead attorney Lester Pines said the dismissal of Storms’ lawsuit and the declaration that it was frivolous is a victory both for free speech and for Action Wisconsin, which is gearing up for a major campaign against the likely November referendum on a constitutional ban on marriage and civil unions for same sex couples.
“This is going to be a very vicious campaign and I want everybody to know that if they think they are going to use phony defamation claims against Action Wisconsin to try to divert it, we will vigorously defend them,” Pines said.
Action Wisconsin had also criticized state Senator Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis) for attending the Milwaukee conference. Reynolds said January 11 he stopped by for 20 minutes as a courtesy.
But as Quest also reported last July, Reynolds has a far more involved interest with Ovadal’s anti-gay agenda. The 2003 InStep story along with subsequent dueling AW and WCU press releases drew the attention of Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel political columnists Cary Spivak & Dan Bice, who followed up with Reynolds and confirmed his presence at the Homo Fascism conference. In their January 13, 2004 piece the columnists wrote: “ ‘It sounded interesting,’ said the West Allis senator who owns a small print shop. ‘I don’t know much about them. I do a little printing for them.’” The “little printing” included a number of WCU brochures. Some of WCU titles are “A Little Discrimination Can Be a Good Thing,” “Homosexuality: The Truth” and “Is Someone You Know A Bugger?”
Action Wisconsin executive director Chris Ott, who - along with - was named in the lawsuit, hailed McMahon’s decision. “Action Wisconsin will not be intimidated into abandoning our mission to achieve full equality for LBGT citizens,” Ott said. “We did not back down from this frivolous suit, and fought back with full strength in order to preserve our mission. In the months and years ahead, those who would consider suing us to silence our voice should take fair warning from this decision: your frivolous claims will not go unpunished.”
Pursuant to the judge’s ruling, the award will go to cover court costs and attorney fees incurred in Action Wisconsin’s defense. The organization is hoping to raise $5 million in its defense of marriage equality in the coming contstitutional referendum fight.