June 25, 2008

Tucson Greyhound Park Sues Racing-Foe Blogger

By Josh Brodesky, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jun. 25--Karyn Zoldan would like to see Tucson Greyhound Park boarded up and greyhound racing ended.

It's not much of a secret. Just check the Internet.

For several years, Zoldan has been an outspoken critic of the track and of greyhound racing, speaking out about how the dogs are treated and the problems that arise when they are retired and no one wants them.

Finally, last fall, fed up with the track, Zoldan took to the Web, putting up a blog at www.endtucson greyhoundracing.com. There she railed against the track, saying, among other things, that "tens of thousands of dogs have died at Tucson Greyhound Park during its 60-year tradition of racing."

That got the track's attention, and Zoldan now finds herself the target of a defamation lawsuit in Pima County Superior Court. Those statements, Tucson Greyhound Park claims, have damaged the track's reputation.

"You can imagine how one would feel reading that tens of thousands of dogs had died at your track," said John Munger, an attorney representing the track. "That just isn't true."

Zoldan, who writes food reviews for the Tucson Weekly and has also in the past freelanced real estate advertisements for Tucson Newspapers, has since taken down that comment and other inflammatory statements, although the site remains up and running.

The suit, said her attorney, Chris Wencker, is frivolous and is simply designed to chill free speech and stop criticism of the track. The burden of proof is on the track.

"They are a highly regulated industry, and so they are already in the public eye," Wencker said. "And it's not as though Karyn and her little Web site with who knows what kind of readership came along and thrust them into the public eye."

Because of the small purses it offers, Tucson Greyhound Park is widely regarded as an "end of the line" destination where greyhounds finish their racing careers.

That distinction has led to a glut of retired racers and incidents of greyhound abandonment and disappearance. Two years ago, more than 140 dogs disappeared after they were supposed to have been taken to adoption groups. A number of other incidents also have made headlines. And for that reason alone, Wencker said, he doesn't see how Zoldan could have damaged the track's reputation.

The suit comes at a time of rapid evolution for free speech on the Internet.

While he wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, Kevin Kemper, a University of Arizona journalism professor who focuses on free-speech issues, said more and more often, speech on the Web is being held to the same standards as speech in print or broadcast media.

"If it's defamatory, you can be liable," Kemper said. "That doesn't change because of the Internet. In fact, the Internet accentuates that," because you can potentially reach a wider audience.

Kemper said a number of people assume that because they are writing on the Internet and not a traditional setting, they can write pretty much whatever they want.

"That's not true," Kemper said. "My big concern is that even though we do have a lot of freedom of speech on the Internet, the abuse of that freedom could lead to more regulation."

For the most part, the suit against Zoldan makes small but potentially significant distinctions about posts.

For example, on her original Web site, Zoldan referenced the disappearance of more than 150 dogs from the track two years ago. But, in fact, the dogs actually disappeared while in the hands of a third party, whom the track hired to move the dogs.

The track does not own the dogs that race there.

How far the suit goes is debatable. It originally included Susan Netboy, of the California-based Greyhound Protection League, and a handful of others, including a dead woman. The case against Netboy was recently dismissed because she had nothing to do with Zoldan's site, and Netboy characterized the suit as nothing more than an attack on free speech.

"I think the idea of a multimillion-dollar corporation suing individuals who are just trying to save dogs and hold the track accountable on public-policy issues doesn't sit well for most people," Netboy said. "I think, actually, all they've accomplished is generated bad will and resentment. I think all of us will be soldiering on."

The case stands as a warning to those who write or post comments on the Internet: They can be held accountable.

"It's essential that free speech on the Internet be preserved," Kemper said. "It is also essential that people who create content and publish it on the Internet, in any form, are aware of their First Amendment rights and responsibilities."

DID YOU KNOW: Tucson Greyhound Park was built in 1944 and is one of three tracks in the state. It is owned by Joseph Zappala and Robert Consolo Jr.

Source: Star Archives


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