No-holds barred: Local conservative group targets blogger with defamation suit

by Jeff Sykes

Local conservative group targets blogger with defamation suit: Isabella Adkins, above in center, was once the treasurer of C4GC and a vocal member of the organization. Adkins was on of four C4GC members who filed a defamation suit against Greensboro blogger Jeff Martin. Adkins is pictured above with Rep. Howard Coble, left, and Bill Randall of Wake Forest. Staff file photo.

A defamation lawsuit filed recently pits four members of Conservatives for Guilford County against a no-holds barred blogger in Greensboro.

Douglas Adkins, whose wife, Isabella Adkins was once one of the most prominent members of the local political action committee, is listed as the lead plaintiff in a defamation suit against blogger Jeff Martin of Greensboro.

Martin, who blogs under the pseudonym, Fecund Stench, lampooned Isabella Adkins and the group Conservatives for Guilford County often using a fictional character to relay experiences from the Greensboro strip-club scene.

The character, Tami Tightenloud, was described as a “dwarf, transvestite Hooters waitress” who would often find herself at strip clubs in Greensboro after hours. It was during these fictional encounters that Martin often wrote about members of C4GC.

The lawsuit names Douglas Adkins, Isabella Adkins, Brett Riddleberger, Jodi Riddleberger and C4GC as plaintiffs and seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $10,000, the threshold required to file a case in superior court. In the filing, the plaintiffs demand a jury trial.

The lawsuit was filed in February, but had an incorrect address for Martin to be served a summons. Court records show that Guilford County sheriff’s deputies attempted to serve the suit at the incorrect address twice in February.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Krispen Culbertson, filed an additional summons on May 1, listing two more addresses for Martin. Deputies served the suit on Martin on Friday morning.

The suit contains three lengthy paragraphs that quote from Martin’s blog.

Of note is that the filing cites an incorrect internet address as the location where Martin published his content.

The first complaint references a post made in May of 2013 where Martin envisioned C4GC members’ celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Martin wrote about C4GC members celebrating the occasion at a strip club. Douglas Adkins is the owner of strip clubs in Greensboro.

“Bubba ended the performance with his rendition of Give it 2 U accompanied by the Puerto Rican girls and Isabella Adkins “¦” the law suit states in reference to Martin’s writing. Bubba is a reference to conservative activist Bob Grenier of Greensboro, one of the more vocal supporters of C4GC and conservative politics in the local online community. Grenier blogged under the nickname “Bubba” for several years.

The suit also objects to Martin alluding to Brett Riddleberger’s conviction for indecent liberties with a minor. Riddleberger was convicted in 1995 on the charge following an incident in which he filmed himself having sex with a 15- year old girl. Brett Riddleberger was 25 years old at the time.

Martin would often skewer Brett Riddleberger for the conviction.

“In past blogs posted on Defendant’s blog site, with such blog posts remaining on Defendant’s blog site, it is falsely stated that Brett suffers from a medical condition known as Erectile Narcolepsy, by which loss of blood to the brain when aroused causes him to lose consciousness,” the suit alleges. “On February 8, 2013 a blog was posted on Defendant’s blogs site falsely stating, ‘Barrett “¦ just fainted’ and ‘It happens frequently,’ thus alluding to the earlier blogs regarding Brett’s alleged medical condition.”

Reached by phone Monday, Martin said he planned a vigorous defense and had been in contact with multiple attorneys. He planned to commence a legal defense fund soon.

C4GC cofounder, Jodi Riddleberger, referred questions for comment to her attorney. When asked over the weekend via social media messaging to confirm the suit, Riddleberger said that C4GC had not sued anyone. On Monday, when told that she and her husband, in addition to C4GC were listed as plaintiffs, Riddleberger said that she “was not aware that C4GC had been named in the court papers.”

Martin’s style has been described as “scabrous” by Greensboro blogging icon Ed Cone, and it’s not hard to sympathize with those who’ve ever seen Fecund Stench’s flag closing in on the horizon. But Martin, who adopted the nom de guerre back in 2005, maintains that he would have taken down any offensive post had he been asked. Martin said that is his first line of defense.

“You respond to any complaint by deleting the content,” Martin said of the precautions he takes while dealing in acerbic satire. “I would have done so if I had been contacted at any point by anybody.”

While Martin is no stranger to online entanglements – he once faced a charge of online harassment that was ultimately dismissed – this is the first time he’s faced a lawsuit over his blog content.

Martin said he considered the risks involved in lampooning conservatives, who are generally not known for a malleable sense of humor, but in the end decided that it was important to highlight flaws in such a rigid political mind set. Fans of Voltaire or Jonathan Swift certainly would understand.

“We spent years trying to understand these people and their concept of authoritarianism,” Martin said. “You can’t reach them with reason or logic. At that point all that’s really left is mockery.”

One of the primary issues to be decided in any potential suit will be if any of the plaintiffs fall under the legal definition of a public figure. While none of the plaintiffs are elected or government officials, both Isabella Adkins and Jodi Riddleberger have involved themselves prominently in political campaigns and policy debates since C4GC first came on the local political scene. A public figure can be defined, in addition to elected or government officials, as a person constantly involved in public affairs. These public figures generally occupy such positions in society that their power and influence makes them an all-purpose public figure. A second category, called a limited purpose public figure, is defined in US Supreme Court case law as someone who has “thrust themselves to the forefront of a particular public controversy …”

The plaintiff’s attorney, however, contends that his clients are private citizens who have suffered great harm due to Martin’s satirical writing.

“They are quiet people,” attorney Culbertson said. “They are not trumpeters of a lot of negativity, unlike other people around here. They don’t feel like it is something they want to fan the flames of for the sake of fanning the flames. But they have to protect their reputation and their family and their business reputation as far as that’s involved.”

Culbertson predicted a lengthy discovery phase, followed by negotiations and a possible trial several months down the road.

By late Tuesday, Martin had secured representation from a New York law firm that specializes in media law and pro bono representation of bloggers. Ronald Coleman, of Goetz Fitzpatrick LLP, had agreed to assist Martin with a defense.

As Yes! Weekly went to press, word began to spread of a potential settlement to the lawsuit. Check our website for updates. !