FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 1, 2019
CONTACT: Mark McCormick, Director of Strategic Communications, 913-490-4113, email@example.com
OVERLAND PARK, KS - The ACLU of Kansas filed suit in U.S. District court Thursday in defense of environmental activists attacked in a baseless, retaliatory ‘consumer protection’ investigation last year by an official with the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC).
The defendant, Dustin Kirk, while serving as the KCC’s Deputy General Counsel, filed a bogus consumer protection complaint last year against Cindy Hoedel and Scott Yeargain. The complaint alleged that their activity protesting injection well applications and associating with other concerned citizens, constituted an unauthorized practice of law.
Injection wells are part of the energy extraction procedure commonly known as “fracking.”
“There was no legitimate basis for believing Hoedel or Yeargain were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas. “As an attorney, he really should’ve known that Cindy and Scott’s activism didn’t constitute a law practice. This was just a way to punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights and for trying to defend their homes.”
The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages and punitive damages for emotional distress and lost income.
June 12 of last year, Kirk reported Hoedel to the Attorney General for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, attaching as evidence emails offering advice on how to avoid being removed from the KCC speakers’ docket.
The same day, Kirk filed a formal complaint against Yeargain, claiming Yeargain had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, citing an email in which someone who couldn’t attend a KCC hearing had asked if Yeargain could provide scheduling information in their place.
At the time of Kirk’s filing, Hoedel was running for a seat on the Chase County Commission, a race that was adversely impacted and ultimately undermined by the allegations.
Hoedel, a contract researcher and former journalist, had built a reputation as a reasonable, respectful and law-abiding citizen, but she lost $20,000 of freelance public relations consultant income, the county commission race, associated salary and future income because of her portrayal as an extremist.
Yeargain, a Philosophy Ph.D. and a civic leader, also worried about his ability to pay legal costs and about the impact the allegations might have on his community standing.
Yeargain rents property and sells cows, both endeavors depend on a reputation for integrity and good faith. He also holds seats on the Kansas Water Office advisory board for Marias des Cynges and the Franklin County Democratic Central Committee. These also require him to remain in good, moral standing.
Hodel and Yeargain have since ceased or curtailed their advocacy activities before the KCC and have reduced their efforts to provide assistance to fellow activists. They’ve heard other activists express fear about participating in hearings and then being subject to similarly manufactured accusations.
Hoedel began looking into KCC proceedings in 2017 after she experienced earthquakes in her Chase County home caused by fracking. She filed several application protests with the KCC opposing injection well sites near her home.
Yeargain lives in Franklin County, and has protested more than a dozen injection well applications in KCC proceedings since 2016.
“Defendant Kirk’s baseless complaint to the Kansas Attorney General in response to Plaintiff’s assistance to other activists and coordinated efforts to protest injection wells has chilled their advocacy efforts before the KCC and constitutes unlawful retaliation under the First Amendment,” the filing said.
Similar legal actions targeting activists have grown more frequent.
A June 2017 Ford Foundation article titled, “How companies are using law suits to silence environmental activists—and how philanthropy can help,” outlined the practice of intimidating, silencing and harassing activists working to expose corporate injustices and human rights violations.
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About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website at www.aclukansas.org.