Business Monday: Alleged online troll says he’s broke, not ready to mediate with Aspen pet store
A man told a judge Friday he is broke but not ready to begin mediation with an Aspen pet shop that has civilly accused him of trolling the business online with anonymous comments that it claims damaged its reputation.
“I am unemployed,” defendant Ivan Lustig told Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin during a teleconference Friday. “I do not have a vehicle. My sole source of income is Social Security, which is protected by federal law.”
Lustig said that litigating Aspen law firm Garfield & Hecht PC “has a duty” to explain his financial state to C.B. Paws, which has accused Lustig of creating internet aliases to manufacture derogatory comments about the store on review sites hosted by Google and Yelp.
For now, however, nothing has been proven against Lustig, C.B. Paws has not said how much it is seeking in damages, and neither side has begun to exchange information as part of the discovery process.
As part of last week’s case management conference, Seldin ordered that both sides complete their disclosure by the last week of August.
The judge plainly explained the process to Lustig, who appeared at the hearing by phone and without an attorney.
“Whether they are emails, ledgers, any kind of documents … ask yourself if it is relevant to the case,” Seldin said, adding that “might include information harmful to your case. You might not want to disclose it, but you’re required to disclose it. That’s how disclosures work.”
C.B. Paws, located in the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall, sued “John Doe” in March 2018, with the goal to stop the comments from continuing. Apparently they have.
The store also said in court pleadings that its reputation was damaged by the remarks, which were made in 2017.
Garfield & Hecht later identified Doe as Lustig, a former C.B. Paws employee who was living in Aspen at the time. In January, it amended it complaint to identify Lustig as the defendant.
Lustig alleged at last week’s briefing Garfield & Hecht “has attempted to paint me in a negative light.”
Attorneys with the firm, also appearing by telephone, didn’t respond to that remark, but said they would prefer to mediate the dispute sooner than later. Lustig said he’s not ready for that approach.
“I would just like to have formal discovery conducted so I can see any claims made by the plaintiffs that just are not provable,” he said.
Last week’s hearing marked Lustig’s first appearance in person, though by telephone, on the matter; previous correspondence has been through court filings. He missed the original case management conference scheduled in April.
Lustig’s alleged comments concerned C.B. Paws’ return policy and prices. Using anonymous names, he allegedly commented abut the shop’s “smells of dog urine, feces and drool.” In turn, C.B. Paws’ reputation was tarnished, the suit claims.
While Lustig has denied any responsibility for the comments, he also wrote in court pleadings that “This case is of importance, as it relates to the plaintiffs (word illegible) to suspend constitutionally protected speech based on flaws and evidence void of credibility.”
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