ORLANDO – On his first day back on the radio since Feb. 11, Doug Guetzloe said he would not be deterred by a jury’s $1.4 million verdict against him and promised he would continue to be a voice for the people, particularly beleaguered taxpayers.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Guetzloe said. “Nothing in that regard will change. The vilifications and the attacks on me will not change.”
On Wednesday, a jury at the Orange County Courthouse ruled in favor of Winter Garden businessman Richard Mask, who had brought a defamation lawsuit against Guetzloe that dates back to a Jan. 10 2006 broadcast of his show, when Guetzloe questioned why Mask was seen talking to young boys in a local mobile home park called Trailer City.
Guetzloe has insisted that he was raising the issue for political reasons, since city leaders wanted to close down the park and sell it to wealthy developers.
Mask said Guetzloe had insinuated that he was a pedophile and the jury agreed, awarding him more than $1.4 million – a sum that Guetzloe said he doesn’t have and doesn’t expect to pay.
Guetzloe said his lawyer, Fred O’Neal, would appeal the verdict and added, “We are confident that the case will be thrown out by the 5th District Court.”
Guetzloe is the host of The Guetzloe Report, which airs on the Phoenix Network in downtown Orlando. Between Feb. 14 and Feb. 23, Guetzloe was off the air as the trial proceeded. This morning, he returned to live radio, and continued to insist that this trial was about political retribution, not words spoken on a radio program.
During the trial, Guetzloe argued that he had gotten involved in a battle to save Trailer City from being torn down, which would have left the park’s elderly residents homeless. That was in 2005, when Winter Garden commissioners voted to close the park, citing fire safety concerns. Residents complained that the park, which dates back to the 1930s, was being closed so the city could sell it to developers, since it was next to Lake Apopka.
Guetzloe sided with those residents and led a successful effort to defeat two of the commissioners who voted in favor of the closing, bringing down one through a recall effort, and finding a candidate to successfully challenge the other.
His comments about Mask, Guetzloe said, had been made out of concern that Mask was looking for code violations – or families with children living in a park that was set aside for people 55 and older – that might get the park shut down. Mask denied that he had been looking for code violations, while his attorney, Howard S. Marks, said this was a simple case of defamation, and the jury agreed.
Marks said this case was mostly about clearing his client’s name and reputation, and finding someone who was willing to stand up to Guetzloe. Mask also sued Guetzloe for abuse of process and malicious prosecution, since Guetzloe had filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against him for taping his radio show. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, and Marks had argued that it was filed solely to intimidate Mask into dropping his defamation case.
“He’s been involved in numerous lawsuits through the years,” Marks said of Guetzloe. “Most people back down. There have been very few people to take him on to the end.”
A blog on The Orlando Sentinel’s Web site demonstrated how polarizing Guetzloe can be: supporters cheered him on, while detractors lambasted him, often in highly vulgar terms.
“Doug Geutzloe has been the most constructive advocate for the people that we’ve had over the past 30 years,” one blogger wrote. “Honest, hard charging and dedicated, he fights for me and so many others. You are clearing one of the handful of political enemies that have been defeated by his many wonderful political victories.”
A critic on the blog countered: “Mr. Guetzloe has for years been a destructive force in this community. His political methods are ones of personal destruction of the reputation of his opponents.”
Marks added that even with the jury verdict, Guetzloe did not appear to be backing down from his comments on Jan. 10 2006.
“Apparently he stands by them today,” Marks said.
Guetzloe did not show remorse – except, perhaps, for the personal attacks launched against him inside and outside of the courtroom.
“It’s been a pretty rough last week and a half because I haven’t been able to express any opinions here,” Guetzloe said as his hour-long program started, then added, “A jury found for Mr. Mask rather than me.”
But despite that, he insisted, “Nothing will change here on The Guetzloe Report and nothing will change on the Phoenix Network.”
He insisted that despite the verdict, he has no regrets about helping the residents of Trailer City.
“That’s why we got involved,” he said. “We were not compensated for what we did, although I did receive an apple pie. I will work for food. That’s obviously been established.”
The verdict, he said, was “a huge price for me to pay for having protected these people, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Guetzloe said his critics have also taken aim at him for his involvement in Ax the Tax, an anti-tax group that he formed, which has spent years fighting taxpayer-funded projects like the high speed rail, which Gov. Rick Scott just killed, and the SunRail commuter rail line.
“Nearly $47 billion in tax proposals have been defeated by taxpayers through Ax the Tax,” Guetzloe said. “That is why you have seen the vilification of Doug Guetzloe. That is why you have seen the vilification of Ax the Tax.”
He denied being someone who engages in the politics of personal destruction.
“They say ‘I’m a bully, I’m a bad guy, I attack people.’ Well, none of that is true,” Guetzloe said. “I’m certainly not a bully. I reject the politics of hate. All of this is in the realm of public discourse and civil debate.”
The radio commentator said he not only doesn’t have $1.4 million to pay, but almost certainly won’t be required to pay it once the case is appealed.
“It violates one of the jury instructions, which was ‘You may not – you may not – seek punitive damages against Doug Guetzloe if it destroys Doug Guetzloe.’ But that was their goal, to destroy Doug Guetzloe – and they have failed.”
He added, “Hopefully Mr. Mask will take some solace from this jury verdict. So be it. I have many faults. I will admit to that. But one of the things I will not admit to being a fault is my fight for the people of Trailer City.”
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