Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The CEO of a student-housing development company is threatening to take legal action against me.
Ted Rollins, the head of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, stated in an e-mail dated September 23 that "to the extent false or misleading information is published" about him or his company that he would pursue "all legal means available."
By "legal means," to remedy "false or misleading information," I assume Rollins is referring to a possible defamation lawsuit against me. There is only one problem with Mr. Rollins' threat--I haven't written anything false or misleading about him or his company. Everything I've written is supported by public documents and/or multiple press reports.
Ten minutes after I received Rollins' statement, sent via a spokesperson named Jason Chudoba, I received a letter from a lawyer named Chad W. Essick, of the Raleigh, North Carolina, law firm of Poyner Spruill. The letter was attached to an e-mail and informed me that Mr. Essick represents Ted Rollins and would be monitoring my future posts. It stated that Mr. Rollins might be "forced to protect his reputation and that of his company." (See the full letter at the end of this post.)
Why are Ted Rollins and his lawyer sending threatening missives to Legal Schnauzer? For one, we've written extensively about Mr. Rollins and his ties to Alabama, especially an alarming divorce case he filed in Shelby Countyagainst Sherry Carroll Rollins, his former wife and now a Birmingham resident. That lawsuit, styled Rollins v. Rollins, was handled in a blatantly unlawful manner--especially considering that Mrs. Rollins already had filed a divorce action against Mr. Rollins in Greenville, South Carolina, where the couple lived at the time. With jurisdiction already established in one state, it could not lawfully be moved to another. But it was, and Ted Rollins wound up with a hugely favorable result. He pays only $815 a month in child support for the couple's two daughters, plus $500 a month in alimony--a paltry sum for a man who belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families, with a company that completed a $380-million IPO last year. Ted Rollins and his lawyer friends at the Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant probably are not happy that I am reporting on the Rollins v. Rollins case.
Second, I've written about a number of unsavory issues connected to Campus Crest Communities, which is planning a $26.3-million development at Auburn University here in Alabama. Several current or former employees have filed lawsuits, claiming the company practices race and sex discrimination. We also have reported on a recent balcony collapse at a new Campus Crest development near the University of North Texas, which sent three young men to the hospital.
I suspect that Mr. Rollins and his lawyer, Mr. Essick, are most concerned about my coverage of personal matters connected to the divorce case. Rollins' threats are ironic because I spoke with him via telephone on July 11 and requested an interview. He informed me that he didn't give interviews to "bloggers," apparently even ones with 30-plus years of professional journalism experience. If I sent him questions in writing, Rollins stated, he would be "more than happy" to answer them.
Turns out that wasn't exactly true. I did send Rollins written questions, the first set dealing with his child-support payments that were roughly two weeks late for the month of September. He did not respond to those questions, but Sherry Rollins informed me that the child support soon was paid.
The second set of questions concerned actions by Ted Rollins and Michele Rollins in Jamaica and Colorado, where the family has business interests. Michele Rollins is the widow of John W. Rollins, Ted's late father, and she is a prominent figure in Republican Party politics. Michele Rollins is close to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and she ran for a Congressional seat from Delaware in 2010.
Something in my second set of questions apparently alarmed Ted Rollins. Instead of answering them in a "more than happy" fashion, he threatened me with legal action. Here is his full response:
All claims and accusations listed in your e-mails dated 20 September 2011 and 14 September 2011 are absolutely false and completely unfounded. Any and all issues between me and my ex-wife have long been settled in court. I have always provided for my children and maintain an excellent relationship with them. I would encourage you to make sure all statements you make about me or my company are true and can be supported by facts. To the extent false or misleading information is published about me or my company, I will be compelled to protect the reputation of myself and my company through all legal means available.
I responded to Rollins and his lawyer via e-mail on September 26. I noted that the lawsuit business can cut both ways:
I am in receipt of your letter, via e-mail, dated Sept. 23, 2011. Please be advised that every article I have written about Ted Rollins and Campus Crest Communities has been thoroughly researched and is supported by public documents and/or multiple press reports. The same will hold true for every article I write about Ted Rollins and Campus Crest Communities in the future.
Your letter alleges that my articles include false or misleading information, but it provides nothing to support that charge. That's because there is nothing to support that charge. You also allude to "allegations" in my e-mails that Mr. Rollins claims are false. In fact, my e-mail contains questions, sent at Mr. Rollins request, not allegations. The questions are based on reports from multiple witnesses who were present in Jamaica at the time, and I have written documents upon which I based these questions.
One of the questions in my e-mail is based on a public document from a South Carolina court, citing information that Mr. Rollins himself provided. In essence, Mr. Rollins now is claiming that information he provided in a court of law is false. What does that say about Mr. Rollins' credibility?
I am a professional reporter and editor, with a degree in journalism and more than 30 years of experience in the field. I also am well acquainted with communications law.
Please be advised that if anyone files a groundless lawsuit against me, I will immediately respond with a countersuit for abuse of process and any other applicable torts against the party and his attorney. I also will seek sanctions and costs against the attorney under Rule 11.
Rest assured that I will protect my rights as a journalist and a citizen. I'm hopeful that the actions noted above will not be necessary.
In the meantime, I would suggest that you actually research my articles, and the public documents and press reports upon which they are based, before firing off a threatening letter that is not supported by fact or law.
Want some more irony? Ted Rollins is riled up, and I haven't even started writing in detail about the most serious issues connected to his divorce case. If he's ticked off now, his mood is not likely to improve in the coming weeks.
Below is the letter from Chad W. Essick: