State wildlife official ordered to pay more than $150,000 over defamation claim he filed

By: - April 17, 2023 3:53 pm

The NDOW biologist argued he wasn’t trying to squelch political speech, but rather trying to stop harassment, and that NDOW took no action to do so. (Getty Images)

A Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist who sued Lake Tahoe bear activists for allegedly mounting a “vicious and calculated effort to damage his reputation and jeopardize his employment” is now on the hook for more than $150,000 in legal fees, costs, and damages. 

Judge Connie H. Steinheimer ruled last week against NDOW official Carl Lackey, who filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Carolyn Stark and Mark Smith, who administer the Facebook page NDOW Watch: Keeping them transparent.

Lackey sued Stark and Smith for comments posted on the page by others about Lackey’s approach to bear management. His claims included defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy.

Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act gives immunity to publishers and website operators for third party speech, however, Steinheimer initially ruled against motions to dismiss the lawsuit under Nevada’s anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation law (anti-SLAPP). 

Smith and Stark contend Lackey filed the suit in an attempt to silence critics of his work with NDOW. 

Lackey argued he wasn’t trying to squelch political speech, but rather trying to stop harassment, and that NDOW took no action to do so. 

The Nevada Supreme Court found Stark and Smith met the first-prong burden of an anti-SLAPP action by establishing “by a preponderance of the evidence, that the claim is based upon a good faith communication in furtherance of the right to petition or the right to free speech in direct connection with an issue of public concern,” and remanded the case to Steinheimer, who later ruled in Smith and Stark’s favor. 

Lackey must pay $73,985.76 in legal fees for Smith, and $76,526.94 for Stark. He is also on the hook for more than $5,000 in costs and $1,000 to each Smith and Stark for statutory damages. The two had asked for $10,000 each, the most available under state law. 

Lackey and his attorney, Rew Goodenow, did not respond to requests for comment. NDOW also did not respond.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.