By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
While Lewis County District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard said Tuesday he would not issue a no-contact order against members of a local political group accused of harassing former Centralia City Councilor John Elmore, he warned two of its members that further unwanted contact with Elmore could strengthen his case against them.
“That doesn’t draw the line in the sand and say everything going forward is free game now,” Buzzard said. “If you have contact in the future with Mr. Elmore, he can refile a petition.”
Elmore recently filed requests for anti-harassment orders against David Reynoldson and Donna Huntting, members of the group Citizens for Honest Government, saying the group and its members were harassing him by sending him letters threatening to spread defamatory information about him unless he not only refrained from seeking any public office but also resigned from his position in the Centralia Rotary Club.
The request came before Buzzard’s court Tuesday.
Buzzard said the statute requires him to rule the harassment was part of an “ongoing course of conduct.” He said that since Elmore only introduced the most recent letter, he couldn’t find that to be true.
“I see this as a pre-emptive strike perhaps by the two of you and your organization to say, ‘Hey don’t (run for office) or else we’re coming back,’” he said to Reynoldson and Huntting. “But it’s not an ongoing course of conduct.”
“So far,” Elmore said.
Buzzard said he has no legal basis to find the group engaged in ongoing conduct with just one letter.
“If you’re contacted in the future, feel free to file another petition,” he said to Elmore.
Members of the loosely-knit political group calling themselves the Citizens for Honest Government made numerous unverified accusations about Elmore’s character and actions in the run-up to the 2017 general election, in which he lost his bid for reelection to the Centralia City Council.
However, he said in court Tuesday that he did not file a complaint about those letters because he was an elected official and subject to additional scrutiny from the public. However, in January, after becoming a private citizen, he received the most recent letter, which he found threatening, and decided to ask a judge to order the group to stop.
“I’m no longer a public figure, I’m a private citizen,” Elmore said Tuesday. “I have a right to pursue happiness.”
He argued the group’s actions were infringing on his civil rights.
“I’m out of office, just like they wanted,” he said. “I should be allowed to … pursue my constitutional rights to be involved in my community.”
Reynoldson denied harassing Elmore.
“I’ve never stalked him, I’ve never followed him anywhere,” Reynoldson said. “I’ve been in his presence three times to my knowledge.”
Huntting also denied the allegation of harassment, calling it “offensive.”
Elmore has described the effort against him leading up to the November 2017 election by the group as a “hate campaign.”
The group accused Elmore of being “dishonest” in a series of letters hand delivered both to Elmore and The Chronicle, and of specific crimes including financial fraud and perjury.
The Chronicle did not print the letters or an advertisement the group attempted to purchase after legal counsel advised that the unverified subject matter of the letters and a proposed advertisement could open the newspaper to legal liability. The group also at one point threatened to take legal action against the newspaper.
Condensed versions of the accusations were also handed out door-to-door at one point in the election.
On Tuesday, Reynoldson said the group’s accusations were based on “rumors” they’d heard from the community.
The letters asked Elmore to admit to the group’s accusations, but also noted a refusal to answer would be taken as an admission of guilt.
They accused Elmore of doing construction on his property without permits, then amended their accusation to say he did the work without timely application for permits after they were discovered.
The group also accuses Elmore of lying about income and property ownership to the Public Disclosure Commission and to the IRS. They cited Elmore’s public PDC disclosures but did not provide proof the disclosures were not accurate.
They also accused him of operating a tractor service without a business license, while Elmore asserted it was a hobby that didn’t make enough money to claim. On Tuesday, Reynoldson expanded his assertions to accuse Elmore of violating the requirements for having collector plates on a vehicle.