Hauks win lawsuit with Leader-Press
The owners of the Copperas Cove Banner have won their legal battle with the Copperas Cove Leader-Press, accepting a cash settlement during mediation in exchange for dropping their lawsuit.
Larry and Joyce Hauk accepted the settlement offer during mediation in January. Terms of the agreement were not released.
“It’s certainly not as much as we felt we were owed,” said Larry Hauk. “It does vindicate us, which was the point of the lawsuit.”
The Leader-Press had accused Hauk of embezzling, saying he took $28,000, but refused to offer any proof until the lawsuit was filed. In discovery, the Leader-Press, as “evidence,” presented hundreds of pages of invoices Hauk had paid while publisher of the newspaper as “proof” of embezzling.
Paid invoices included bills from electric companies for service at the Leader-Press office at 2210 E. Bus. Hwy. 190, invoices for office supplies, invoices for freelance photographers and reporters and even paid invoices for the Leader-Press business insurance with Western Insurance.
“It was electric bills, internet bills, invoices for equipment,” said Hauk. “The sad part is I still don’t understand why they lied about us. I assume it was to discredit us in the event we opened a newspaper.”
The Hauks demanded money for stock in the Copperas Cove Newspapers Inc., the Bell County entity that owns the Leader-Press, and filed suit for the stock, defamation and other money owed by CCN Inc. “We had to go after Joyce’s final commission check,” said Hauk. “They even refused to pay that.”
CCN Inc. sued Hauk first, which turned out to be the one positive in the ordeal, he said. “My attorney and I had been trying to figure out a way to sue them in Coryell County,” said Hauk, “but it looked impossible because they are a Bell County corporation. Them suing first turned out to be a gift.” The corporate home of CCN Inc. is just blocks from the Bell County courthouse. The majority owner of the Leader-Press is David Tuma, who also owns the Belton Journal and the Harker Heights Evening Star.
Hauk began his partnership with the Tuma family in 2001, working with David and his father, Billy Tuma. That partnership began to sour after Billy Tuma’s death in 2008.
The Hauks sued for defamation after at least one Leader-Press employee started spreading the rumor of embezzlement soon after the Hauks were fired from the newspaper. David Morris, who became publisher, told former city council member Marty Smith that Hauk had embezzled. Smith was one of the people who provided affidavits in the event the case did go to trial.
Jennie Snelling, the regional vice president for Quine and Associates in charge of Cove Terrace Shopping Center, also provided an affidavit. The Hauks lease office space at Cove Terrace. In her affidavit, Snelling said she was approached by a member of the business community who asked her why she was renting to the Hauks. “The business person who asked why we were renting to you was very derogatory when asking the question,” said Snelling. “The person said that they were surprised we would rent to you with the embezzlement accusation against you. Their action, in my mind, was spreading vicious rumors.”
The Hauks were fired by the Leader-Press on Oct. 3, 2013, and filed suit a year later. “They even lied about firing us,” said Hauk. “Morris and another employee told the landlord (George Duncan) that night that we had been ‘let go,’ but CCN Inc. then told the Texas Workforce Commission that we ‘abandoned our posts,’” said Hauk.
After four years, Hauk said they were ready for the suit to go to court, but faced the prospect of starting over after their attorney, Steve Duskie, announced his candidacy for district judge in Bell County late last year. “We were looking at the possibility of having to hire a new lawyer (if Duskie won) and starting all over,” said Hauk. “That’s the main reason we settled during mediation.” In a crowded field in the 264th District Court race, Duskie finished third to Paul LePak and Jeff Parker. LePak won the runoff.
During mediation, each side had to reveal how much they had spent on attorney’s fees. Tuma said CCN Inc. had spent $70,000 in attorney’s fees, while the Hauks had spent $5,000.