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L. Neil Smith's
Interview with Kathi Mills
by L. Neil Smith
Exclusive to TLE
[Editor's Note: the following interview took place January 21, 2002. For the latest developments -- and there are several -- check kittyvillage.org and the Yahoo! Group "kittyvillage".]
TLE: You're a person who, for reasons that seem proper and sufficient to you, stands against cruelty to animals. I'd guess that most readers of The Libertarian Enterprise are offended by the most radical expression of that concern, the concept of "animal rights", and might even be pleased at your current predicament. Let me make it clear, to them and to you, that this interview is about human rights, and in particular, the right to free speech, over the Internet or any other medium.
MILLS: I am an animal welfare advocate, not an animal rights activist. My primary activities include cat rescue and Kitty Village. I rescue cats from kill shelters and the streets, get them full veterinary care including spaying or neutering, and foster them until they are placed in carefully screened homes. I also run the Web site Kitty Village, which helps myself and others find qualified homes for rescued cats through the Internet.
TLE: I'm very happy to be conducting this interview. Please take your time, answer the questions below at any length you wish, and feel free to add whatever comments seem appropriate.
TLE: An individual is suing you, I understand, over something you said about him on the Internet. Could you explain who he is, what you said about him, and why?
MILLS: The Atlanta Humane Society and its executive director, Bill Garrett, filed suit against me for defamation of character based on comments I made about them in a Yahoo! group. The comments cited in the suit are extensive, but I basically expressed frustration with the way the AHS operates in several areas, including failure to spay or neuter pets before adoption, failure to present cruelty cases for investigation, refusal to allow no-kill groups to rescue the animals instead of killing them, and overcrowding at the Fulton County Animal Control shelter, which the AHS manages. I made these comments in the course of a discussion about a recently televised exposť of AHS. My comments were also part of a community-wide effort to awaken the Atlanta Board of Commissioners to the mismanagement at the AHS and urge them to reform the desperate conditions that exist there.
TLE: I take it you regard him to be a public figure, and a legitimate object of public criticism. Or would you have said what you did about a private individual, as well?
MILLS: Garrett is in fact a public figure. He actively seeks publicity and millions of dollars in contributions from the community, and has thrust himself into a public controversy he created by his own incompetent management. The AHS receives $2 million per year in taxpayer funds from Fulton County to run the Fulton County Animal Control shelter. A week ago, the Attorney General issued an opinion on a Freedom of Information Act request brought by WSB-TV, stating that since the AHS accepts taxpayer funds, they are acting on behalf of the government and are therefore required to provide the documents requested. I would think this opinion also elevates Garrett to the status of a public official and therefore a public figure for libel purposes.
TLE: What I've seen indicates that what you said about him was based on TV news reports. How does what you said about him differ from what was said on TV?
MILLS: The television exposť contended that the AHS does not perform cruelty investigations, and misrepresents itself in its fundraising literature by grossly inflating its adoption statistics and lying about services it provides. My comments are indentical in substance to the television exposť and the protests made to the Atlanta Board of Commissioners, just more colorful. The First Amendment gives us breathing space to make colorful comments to get our point across.
TLE: Is he also suing the reporter and the TV station, and if not, in your opinion, why?
MILLS: To my knowledge, Garrett has not sued the TV station because it would be a hopeless case. Instead, he has filed flawed and abusive SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suits against two private individuals designed to chill our First Amendment rights. The other person he sued was one of the AHS ex-employees who participated in the television exposť. Garrett's actions are un- American and smack of tactics used by those who are afraid to have the truth published in the press and over the Internet.
TLE: Would you say that this lawsuit diminishes or endangers your right to free speech? By implication, does it threaten the rights of others, as well?
MILLS: That is absolutely the intent, and as a member of the Libertarian Party and a newspaper journalist by training, that is what I find most offensive about it. Garrett seeks to strip me of my birthright as an American. He does not seem to realize that were he successful, he would damage all Americans, including himself.
TLE: I've read that you had contacted the Libertarian Party for help, and were disappointed by their response. Was this your state LP or the national organization?
MILLS: It was the Georgia Libertarian Party.
TLE: What specific individual did you contact?
MILLS: I spoke to Mark Moseley on the phone.
TLE: What did you want them to do?
MILLS: I was really hoping for a press release stating that they support me in my cause to defend my First Amendment rights. I was also hoping for a financial contribution to help offset my significant legal expenses. This is an important issue to everyone who cherishes the right to speak their mind in America. I would like the Libertarian Party to take active measures to stop people like Garrett from intimidating others with nonsensical lawsuits such as the one filed against me.
TLE: Were they friendly, hostile, or what? And what did they offer to do for you, if anything?
MILLS: Mark was friendly, but he explained that the Georgia Libertarian Party needed to focus all of its resources on its candidates right now. He did not offer any help.
TLE: Do you intend to countersue, and if so, what do you calculate your right to free speech is worth, six figures, seven, eight, nine, or more?
MILLS: My lawyers and I have not really discussed that yet.
TLE: I see in recent e-mail that your antagonist has offered you a rather one-sided settlement in which you must retract what you said and apologize. I also see that you've rejected that settlement. What would the other side have to do for you, in order to settle this case?
MILLS: I can't offer details about our legal strategy at this time, but we would expect many fundamental changes in the way both the Atlanta Humane Society shelter and the Fulton County Animal Control shelter are operated, that would benefit both the animals and Fulton County taxpayers.
TLE: Do you mind giving your e-mail address to our readers? How about a snail-mail address where they might send you more tangible support? And thank you very much for visiting with The Libertarian Enterprise.
MILLS: The e-mail address for comments about the lawsuit is firstname.lastname@example.org. Stopping Pet Overpopulation Together (SPOT), a local animal welfare group, has established a legal defense fund for this and similar lawsuits. All donations are tax-deductible and greatly needed and appreciated. The address is: SPOT Legal Defense Fund, P.O. Box 801012, Acworth, GA 30101. SPOT also accepts credit card contributions through PayPal; their e-mail address is email@example.com. I would also appreciate press releases, letters to the editor, and other publicity from supportive organizations.
I have enjoyed this interview - thanks!
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"Ad astra per aspera."
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