Mark Towner Threatens to Sue Me

I received the following in my inbox this morning. It was also posted as an open letter on Mr. Towner's website.

Dear Mr. Harris,
You indicate that I have stolen a mailing list from Utah Policy Daily. You also indicate I admitted to this theft. Just so we are both clear on this issue,
1) I have "stolen" nothing from Utah Policy Daily
2) I am prepared to take this issue to court to prove that I have stolen nothing from anyone.
3) You have slandered me and called me a Liar.
4) It should be obvious to you that I do not make idle threats when it comes to the Law.
5) I will give you 24 hours to post on every site you slandered me an apology and I will drop the issue. If not be prepared to be served.
Mark E. Towner

This was my response to him:

Dear Mr. Towner,

I will issue a correction and retraction of the claim that you obtained your e-mail list from Utah Policy Daily if you can provide and prove the source of the vast majority (80%+) of your subscribers and they that did not in fact come from UPD. I will only rescind the claim that you obtained the list through unscrupulous means it you can provide information proving they were not obtained by methods that would be illegal under the federal CAN-SPAM Act were you using the addresses for commercial purposes and do not violate the privacy policy of any organization from which you obtained them.

Until this point, there are dozens of online complaints about receiving unsolicited e-mails from you and you dropped over 100 subscribers after your most recent additional enrollments, not a good sign for a purported "opt-in" list. In addition to my own personal experience, this provides a strong case that many e-mail addresses must have been obtained from a 3rd party. If this is an act of retribution for your FeedBlitz account being terminated for violating their ToS requirement for only opt-in lists, I would advise you to reconsider your threat. (I noticed it was missing this morning and I am only presuming that many people opted to file complaints as I did.)

I'm not doing this for entertainment purposes. I'm doing this because all of the evidence points towards one conclusion: that the e-mail addresses have been obtained through methods that would be illegal were you sending commercial e-mail and would violate the ToS of pretty much every mailing list provider out there. I don't like spam. It wastes my time, clutters my inbox and has forces me to find increasingly cumbersome ways to curb it. (SpamAssassin on my mail server consumes considerable resources and while Spam Karma 2 does a great job with filtering comments, I still have to look through and manually flag some of them.) I'm willing to give you a chance to prove me wrong and will issue a retraction should be able to do so. I'll even sign a non-disclosure agreement to assure you that I will not publish, share or otherwise redistribute the contents of the e-mail address list(s), only aggregate data from said lists (i.e. X number from list Y).

Please let me know if you are willing to accept my offer. It will be immediately invalid should you pursue any legal action and the data I have requested would be requested in court anyway should it reach that point.

His answer? "See you in court."

I'm not prepared to back down on this considering the chilling effects this could have on Utah bloggers as a whole. I appreciate those of you who have offered your support and especially the offer of free legal representation should he follow through with his threats. At this time, I don't think I can offer any further comment on the episode until I see what happens next.

PS One point of clarification that he offered is that he shut down the FeedBlitz service on his own because of "security issues". How it is that seeing subscriber numbers comprises a "security issue" is well beyond me and the avoidance of transparency and verifiable numbers is quite simply disturbing. 

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36 Responses

  1. Bobbie says:

    I just can’t believe it comes to legal action.

  2. ConsiderThis says:

    Maybe Towner received email addresses from without stealing them. Perhaps they were compensation for his work with them, or the people who run voluntarily gave them to Towner to conduct his political black ops.

    Which begs the question of the ethics of LaVarr Webb. Mark Shurtleff, and others who employ the talents of Mark Towner and people like him.

  3. Jesse says:

    ConsiderThis: I e-mailed Lavar Webb to ask for clarification in that matter and he has not responded despite the e-mail being sent two days ago.

  4. Jason says:

    He’s busy shredding any evidence as we speak.

  5. “See you in court.”? Maybe Mike Ridgway isn’t the crazy one after all. Good luck, Jesse; I’d be happy to help you out.

  6. Jason The says:

    You really have little to worry about. What you’ve posted doesn’t constitute libel or slander under current definitions of the law, and your case would be strengthened by the fact that many in fact do receive his “newsletter” without having voluntarily subscribed.

    Any claim he tries to push will die in review, and a judge will never hear Towner’s complaint.

    Regardless, we would be more than happy to help with legal fees or representation should it become necessary. Simply let us know.

    Jason The
    -The Sidetrack

  7. Jason The says:

    Afterthought: There is quite a humorous side to Mark’s reaction to the exposure he is receiving.

    Paper Tigers indeed, Matey.

  8. notaturkeybone says:

    I learned from one of the Spiderman movies that disparaging comments are considered “slander” when spoken but “libel” when printed.

    Or maybe it’s “Libel” since Mr. Towner seems fond of capitalizing words that start with “L.”

  9. JM Bell says:

    I have the image of an involuntary penitent, dressed in a pirate costume, whipping himself bloody and unable to stop.

    It started out as kinda sad, but funny and now it’s just sad. Mark doesn’t seem to be able to control his anger spasms and just keeps calling attention to himself in negative ways.

    It’d be tragic if he weren’t acting like such a dork about it.

  10. I’ve put Jesse in touch with an experienced attorney in this kind of thing who is willing to represent him pro bono (afreedom of speech fan). I would be amazed if Towner actually went through with his threat, and even more amazed if he could find an attorney willing to take it on. This attorney has looked at the posts in question, and doesn’t see anything that would qualify as defamatory there. (Defamation is the overall concept; slander is the oral form, libel written.) There are also a number of privileges and other available defenses. It really would be silly for Towner to pursue this.

  11. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think he could prove libel (slander is verbal…libel is everything else).

    Libel requires defamation.

    Defamation means harming the good reputation of the accuser.

    Your honor, I rest my case.

  12. No kidding. One of the most interesting aspects of a defamation suit would be delving into all aspects of Towner’s prior actions in recent years that could have contributed to the alleged harm to his reputation. As part of his case in chief, Towner would also have to prove that the statement is not privileged, which is doubtful considering the various privileges recognized in Utah law, that the defamatory statement was made with the required state of mind or level of fault (a constitutional requirement), and he would also have to overcome the fact that Jesse’s post actually set forth in detail the factual bases upon which he was relying in forming his opinion about Towner’s honesty. Easy case to defend.

  13. Glen says:

    May the force be with you if the sorry example of a human being actually tries to take you to court.

  14. Jeremy says:

    Of course I’d be willing to contribute what I can to any legal defense fund or effort put together. Good luck Jesse. This guy is pathetic. Now that he has gone nuclear (figuratively speaking of course…you have to clarify with this bozo) the whole Utah blogosphere needs to unite. No one threatens the freedom of speech of one of our number without uniting the rest of us against them.

  15. Rob Miller says:


    back down or I go public with our situation from last year.

    I mean it brother, I still believe you are better than this. We all take heat.

  16. Mike says:

    When he says “be prepared to be served” I hope he busts some sort of break dance move. That would be awesome.

    I agree with everyone else. The paper tiger will fold.

  17. Dude is an Idiot. Like he can track down every website that he’s on anyway. Can I come to court? I’ve never been before. Can we make signs and cat calls from a bull pen?

  18. Dear Mark, My Friend,

    I also hope that you drop this threat against Jesse. As bloggers, we all cherish the unique culture of free and open exchange that this forum offers.

    I don’t think any of us want to see a new precedent established that introduces “fear” into the mix. That would having a chilling effect upon our wonderful debates, such that people are intimidated to share what they “really think.”

    Personally, I want to hear what you, and Voice of Utah, and Rob Miller, and JM Bell, and Part of the Plan, and all of our other friends here “really think.”

    You have called me a “liberal Democrat” and compared me to “Nevel Chamberlain” because I oppose launching a massive nuclear attack against Iran. Part of the Plan has questioned my “mental health” because I believe gay marriage will undermine the family as we know it. It’s all good. I love it. This kind of interaction is exactly why I waste spend my precious time in the blogosphere. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Granted, bud, you have been harshly dealt with recently. (At times I felt like you were “chub” at a shark feeding frenzy.) But, I guess that comes with the territory doesn’t it? When you choose to be an outspoken public person, this is what you are choosing.

    You are a big boy. You can take it. But, more importantly, you are good man, with a great family –kinda like Jesse Harris. Please, just let go.

    Alienated Wannabe

  19. Shauna (the other one) says:

    Stop or I’ll sue!

    Yay for America!

  20. Defamation involves publication of a false statement of fact that damages someone’s reputation. Saying Mark committed a crime, if he didn’t — (maybe UPD gave him the list) — might fall into that category.

    To avoid such issues, you often hear statements couched as opinion, like, “He’s slime, in my opinion.” Opinions are not statements of fact.

    Because some people really do get their kicks from the attention that lawsuits generate and because lawsuits are expensive and a huge waste of time, you might want to clarify that your point is not how Mark got the names, but that he is using them doltishly (including Steve Urquhart’s growing mountain of unwanted Towner emails). And you can reemphasize your main point, which is that, in your opinion, Towner is an idiot.

    These are just some friendly thoughts. Though it seems ridiculous, you might want to consider talking to any lawyers you know. Given its tremendous cost, the threat of litigation is a very serious thing. Like the other commentors on this thread, I’m very sorry that we have a turd on our blogospheric sidewalk.

  21. A.W.,

    I still think you’re nuts. In my opinion. But in a good way. I think. But you are absolutely right on the stupidity of nuking Iran. And that’s a statement of fact.


    The 24 hours are up. So, is Towner a man of his word, or is he just a gasbag, as I claimed on my blog? In my opinion.

  22. Hey, AW, which one bothered you more, having someone accuse you of being a “liberal Democrat” or having someone question your mental health? (Or you do consider them the same thing?) :p

    Steve, although your comment was directed at Jesse, I can’t resist responding. Your concerns about the seriousness of a threat of litigation are legitimate, which is one reason why, if a claim appears to be largely unfounded, it may be helpful to all of us if Jesse feels he can stand his ground. My concern is that backing down may encourage others to make such threats against bloggers that they wouldn’t make against a traditional media outlet, because they will assume that a blogger doesn’t have the resources or will to take a stand.

    I’m not suggesting that a blogger shouldn’t correct errors (I made a correction last week regarding John Renteria’s conviction in response to a comment, which I appreciated), but Jesse laid out his case pretty thoroughly in his post. In essence, his post was an opinion, with the supporting facts laid out for others to judge whether they supported the allegation. If the underlying facts were in error, Jesse offered Towner an opportunity to correct them. Anyway, I’m hoping this is just a blip in the blogosphere. For the most part, we all seem to get along pretty well, whether as like-minded individuals or frenemies.

  23. I didn’t mean to suggest that Jesse back down. One never should back down to a bully. Or, as VOU suggests, the bully becomes emboldened. I was suggesting that Jesse consider doing the same thing in a slightly different manner. Stealing a list is a factual matter, which might or might not have happened. We don’t know. But, the real issue seems to be whether Mark is being a jerk on the bloghive.

  24. Bethany says:

    Wait, this from a guy who said this:

    “At first I thought you actually might be somebody I should be concerned about. Then I saw your website LOL”


    *shakes head*

  25. Jason says:

    I know. Not even a comma before the LOL. May he text and instant message teenagers in shame.

  26. Dear PoP,

    In my opinion, you MAY be right about me being nuts . . . allegedly. This, according to high ranking officials who have asked not be identified, and whom I MAY refuse to identify if subpoenaed. . .reportedly . . . in my opinion.

    Thanks for the laughs, bud,
    Alienated Wannabe

  27. Dear VoU,

    As for your question, I suppose that I was most hurt by the “liberal Democrat” label because the “L” was not capitalized.

    Just kidding, I was not really offended by either one. My differences with Mark are actually more tactical than strategic. I think he knows that I am a fellow conservative and a friend. (He is right about Iran’s dangerous influence in the region.)

    As for PoP, I kind of asked for everything I got from him. As you may recall, I had high jacked one of Ethan’s comment threads and drove it way off topic. (It’s what I do. I probably should work on my own pathetic blog, but I honestly have more fun commenting on those of other people.)

    It’s kind of interesting, though, I’ve been having an intense discussion recently with one of my blogger friends, Micah Bruner, via email. And, I confided in him that I AM ACTUALLY A LIBERAL. (It’s a scriptural commandment to be liberal.) It’s just that many traditional liberal positions are now considered to be conservative, so I simply adopt that inaccurate label in order to avoid confusion.

    You, for example, would know that a generation ago the so-called liberal position on interpreting the Constitution (best articulated by Justice Frankfurter) is what we now call strict constructionism, the so-called conservative position of today.

    It’s the same with the old liberal notion of limited government now being considered a conservative value. The labels are constantly changing, so I have found that I need to be on my toes.

    In my honest opinion, the classic liberal movement has been artificially divided between the two parties. (The Democrats best represent these values in their desire to look after the poor, the Republicans best represent them by their defense of unborn children.) Some day, perhaps, we will be reunited in a single movement. But, until then, we must do the best we can with what we have.

    Take care, my fellow liberal,
    Alienated Wannabe

    P.S. With frenemies like us, who needs . . .?

  28. Wikima says:

    . . . frenemas?

  29. Jenn says:

    Wow.. I feel like I live near celebrities! You go jesse!

  30. BethAnn says:

    GOOD GORDON. What a jerk. He sounds like he’s throwing a tantrum. “If you don’t stop, I’m taking my Barbies and going HOME!”

    Go Jesse! Hee hee!

  31. Vanessa says:

    He’s removed the open letter to you from his own blog – you rock for not backing down!

  32. Kristi says:

    “He sounds like he’s throwing a tantrum.” I have a 2 1/2 year old. My sentiments exactly. And as much as a pain as this is for you Jesse, it’s REALLY entertaining. 🙂 Thanks for sharing it all.

  33. Jesse says:

    I just want to take a moment to thank everyone here for the outpouring of support. The matter has now been resolved and you can read the latest on the new post I just put up.

  34. jeremy says:

    I bet he just replied ‘see you in court’ because you didn’t cave in on the email. He probably didn’t even read the whole thing

  1. December 7, 2009

    […] on their website, hopefully as a joke: Mark E. Towner. Yes, that Mark Towner, the one of spamming, legal threats, and general pest fame. (As a side note, his most recent legal threat against me resulted in, […]

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