Parents' Web site prompts defamation lawsuit, restraining order

VIRGINIA — The fate of aWeb site critical of Hargrave Military Academy and its president, Col. WheelerM. Baker, has turned into a waiting game. The site’s creators, Jerry andMelissa Guyles, have been waiting a little over 20 days to find out whether ornot they will be allowed to resume operating their site after a federal districtcourt issued a temporary restraining order requiring them to shut itdown.

The Guyles created the site,, aftertheir son Stewart was expelled from the Chatham, Va., prep school in March.According to Anthony Monioudis, the attorney representing both Baker andHargrave, Stewart was caught stealing and the case was brought beforeHargrave’s Honor Court, which recommended his dismissal.

Alongwith creating the site, the Guyles also circulated a letter to other Hargraveparents questioning Baker’s professionalism. Shortly after, Hargrave andBaker sued the couple for libel, tortuous interference, conspiracy and unfairtrade practices, according to anAssociatedPress article.

”The information in the letter and on theWeb site, from our perspective, was viewed as defamatory. It was just falsestatements with the purpose of tortuous interference with the relationshipbetween Hargrave and its existing students and future students. We thought therewere legal wrongs that we wanted remedied,” Monioudissaid.

Statements in the letter along with ones on the Web siteimplied that Baker alone made the dismissal decision, which is not correct,Monioudis said.

”The dismissal went through the honor codesystem, which each cadet is aware of. The honor code was who recommended theexpulsion and then [Baker] accepted that recommendation. The tone of the letterwas that [Hargrave] did not follow protocol…which is absolutely false,”

he said.

After the May 8 temporary restraining order was issued, theAmerican Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a 10 pagefriend-of-the-courtbrief arguing that requiring the Guyles to remove the site was a violation oftheir First Amendment rights, said Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLUof Virginia.

”The [temporary restraining order] should not havebeen granted because essentially the legal precedent and long tradition of thisnation is of not restraining speech until it becomes absolutely necessary and isproven unlawful,” Willis said.

Issuing a temporary restrainingorder to restrain speech is very rare, ”particularly in which only oneside has a chance to argue its case,” he said.

”Our mainpoint is, when it comes to free speech, the court should lean heavily in favorof the speaker all the way through and of course, that would include a fullhearing. The question is not so much is it lawful or not, but who is harmed themost by not allowing the speech to take place,” Willissaid.

After the initial temporary restraining order was issued, bothsides were scheduled to come before the court to hold a preliminary injunctionhearing. However, the date for that hearing has been postponed several times.Until a hearing occurs, the temporary restraining order keeping the Web site offthe Internet stays in place, with the next scheduled date for the injunctionhearing set for July 7, Monioudis said.

”[Our brief] isfiled…all we can do is wait, and of course that’s disappointing becauseas long as there’s not a preliminary injunction the [temporary restrainingorder] stays in place,” Willissaid.