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Ex-mayors to face off at trial

Hinteregger v. Rigney defamation case set for trial Monday

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014 06:00 am

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Two former county mayors will face off in court next week as a long-simmering defamation suit finally goes to trial.

A defamation lawsuit filed by former county mayor Helmut Hinteregger against former mayor Don Rigney is set to go to trial in Edmonton’s Court of Queen’s Bench next Monday morning.

The suit also names former county mayor Lawrence Kluthe and county residents Harvey Visscher and Kenneth Smulsky as defendants.

Although the suit was originally filed in February 2008, Hinteregger said that it has taken until now to reach the trial stage. “The process of court is a tedious one.”

The suit itself involves allegedly defamatory remarks made by Rigney, Kluthe, Visscher and Smulsky in 2006 and 2007, particularly during the 2007 civic election.

At the time, the county and then-mayor Hinteregger were embroiled in a $5.6 million lawsuit about a land deal they had helped arrange for Synenco Energy. That suit was dropped in 2010.

Hinteregger’s lawsuit focuses on two motions made by Rigney in council.

The first, on Feb. 26, 2006, was when Rigney moved to have council ask for a full report on the Synenco land sale from Hinteregger and then-county commissioner Larry Kirkpatrick. The suit claims that this motion was defamatory as it alleged that Hinteregger had been in a conflict of interest, acted as agent for Synenco and breached his duty as a public official during the sale.

The second motion, on Sept. 25, 2007, came when Rigney asked for Hinteregger and Kirkpatrick to be removed from any involvement with the aforementioned Synenco suit because they were in a conflict of interest. Hinteregger’s suit said this motion was also defamatory as it implied he was misusing county resources.

The suit also claims that Rigney, Kluthe, Visscher and Smulsky made similarly defamatory remarks about Hinteregger being in a conflict of interest and misusing county funds during the 2007 election campaign.

Visscher and Smulsky were members of the Sturgeon County Citizens’ Association – a group that called for greater accountability from county council during the 2007 civic election. Kluthe ran for councillor in that election.

The suit alleges that these remarks damaged Hinteregger’s reputation and caused him to lose the 2007 election. It seeks $1.4 million in damages and a public retraction of the defamatory remarks from each of the defendants.

None of the allegations made in the suit have been proven in court.

Hinteregger hoped that the court would find that he and Kirkpatrick did nothing wrong in the Synenco matter. “That’s what we’re hoping to get out of it – that it clears my name.”

Rigney filed a statement of defence to Hinteregger’s suit in 2008. In it, he denies all the allegations in the suit and claims the suit was meant to discredit him personally and as county mayor.

Rigney said he could not comment on the specifics of the suit as it was before the courts. “I’m confident it’ll be resolved in my favour.”

Kluthe declined to comment on the suit. Visscher and Smulsky could not be reached for comment.


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