Judge nixes $170K in costs for activist whose Wi-Fi suit was tossed
Jan 09, 2013 (The Santa Fe New Mexican - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Anti-Wi-Fi activist Arthur Firstenberg won't have to pay his neighbor's costs to defend herself against his lawsuit accusing her of damaging his health by using electronic devices.
State District Judge Sarah Singleton, who tossed out Firstenberg's complaint last year, ruled Tuesday that he does not have to pay for the expert witnesses called by his next-door neighbor, Raphaela Monribot.
Singleton found that Firstenberg is only responsible for $15 in copying fees not paid by the defendants' insurance carriers. Monribot's attorney, Christopher Graeser, said he would waive that charge.
The judge withheld ruling on whether Firstenberg is liable for costs incurred by Monribot's landlord, Robin Leith, whom he also sued. Leith is seeking an order to separate the utilities that connect Leith and Firstenberg's properties that back up to each other on the west side of town.
Monribot and Leith's lawyers had asked the judge to order Firstenberg to pay nearly $170,000 in costs incurred by their clients. But on Tuesday, they agreed that they had duplicated some expert-witness bills, so the total amount would be smaller.
The largest single bill was $67,000 from Herman Staudenmayer, a clinical psychologist from Denver who was deposed by Monribot's lawyers last year.
Staudenmayer, author of Environmental Illness: Myth & Reality, is known for debunking "clinical ecology" and arguing that the best way to cure multiple chemical sensitivity, as well as electromagnetic sensitivity, is through psychotherapy.
During Tuesday's hearing, Singleton questioned why Staudenmayer's bill was so high because his testimony in the Firstenberg case is essentially the same that he has given for years in other cases around the country.
"I don't understand why it's not part of his repertoire," she said.
Singleton also rejected the request to order Firstenberg to pay for other expert witnesses, other copying fees, mediation costs and electronic filing fees. She said Firstenberg does not appear to have the ability to pay for these costs.
Firstenberg's attorney, Lindsay Lovejoy, said his client's income from disability payments is about $718 a month, that he has put himself $100,000 in debt by pursuing the case against Monribot and Leith, and that his major asset, a $450,000 residence, is held in trust for Firstenberg's mother.
If Firstenberg is driven into bankruptcy by having to pay the costs incurred by the defendants, Lovejoy said, it would discourage others from challenging the safety of devices emitting electromagnetic signals.
"This will not be the last case," he said. "These issues deserve to be examined, not suppressed."
Graeser and Joseph Romero, another attorney for Monribot, questioned whether Firstenberg's residence is truly held in trust. They said they had not seen a document proving that and that Santa Fe County records indicate Firstenberg owns the property in his own name without a mortgage. Monribot, they said, is an unemployed artist without many assets.
But Singleton said she saw no reason to question Firstenberg's claim to a trust arrangement with his mother, and she did not want to require him to sell the property to pay for his neighbor's costs.
Firstenberg, who leads a local group of people opposed to the proliferation of devices emitting electromagnetic signals, has been the subject of international attention since he sued Monribot in January 2010, arguing that her use of a smartphone, a wireless router and other electronic devices was damaging his health. He is appealing Singleton's decision Sept. 1 to dismiss his complaint.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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