Legal Malpractice from Crivello, Nichols & Hall Endangers Minocqua Brewing Company's Progressive Activism

Legal Malpractice from Crivello, Nichols & Hall Endangers Minocqua Brewing Company's Progressive Activism

Hi Everyone,
I’m filling your inboxes today instead of this Sunday because I believe the news I’m about to share is not only important for the Minocqua Brewing Company and for me, but also for the judicial system in Wisconsin.
If you don’t have time to read any further, the gist of this email is that my attorney, Fred Melms, discovered that my lawyers in Wisconsin’s largest defamation lawsuit in history, provided to me by my insurance company, made a grave error in my defense that currently endangers the Minocqua Brewing Company and our progressive activism in this critical presidential swing state.
Here’s the longer story.
If you’ve followed the Minocqua Brewing Company at all over the years, you’ve probably read that last October, I lost the largest defamation lawsuit in Wisconsin’s history to Gregg Walker, publisher of The Lakeland Times.
I’ve argued time and time again over the last several years that  it was preposterous for a newspaper, especially a right-wing propaganda rag like the Lakeland Times, to sue a private citizen for defamation, and I’ve been saying for years that the First Amendment protected my right to criticize them.
Not only was I right, but we discovered last week that my assertion was codified in Wisconsin law, and that the legal precedent that proved my innocence was entirely missed by both the prosecution and defense during my trial last October.
The Minocqua Brewing Company and I have been represented by the Law firm Crivello, Nichols & Hall since May of 2022--a firm selected by and paid for by our insurers, West Bend Mutual and Society Insurance. Unfortunately, despite their years of experience, Crivello, Nichols & Hall failed to live up to their reputation, provided us with a terrible defense, and were unable to protect our right to speak freely.
We believe that our lawyers from Crivello, Nichols & Hall made numerous mistakes, but one mistake was particularly damning for our case. Our attorneys failed to cite Polzin v. Helmbrecht, 54 Wis. 2d 578 (Wis. 1972), a Wisconsin Supreme Court case that supports our argument that members of the media, like Gregg Walker, and newspapers like the Lakeland Times, cannot sue individuals who challenge their lies and disinformation for defamation without meeting certain criteria.
More specifically, Polzin v. Helmbrecht holds that all Americans have the First Amendment right to criticize the media, and when a news outlet or member of the media brings a defamation suit, they must prove that the alleged defamatory statements were either known to be false at the time they were made or made with reckless disregard for the truth. Had our attorneys cited this case either at summary judgment or before trial, we would likely have won, and this all would have been over with.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of effort, diligence, or interest, they failed to do so, and now we are facing a $750,000 jury verdict, which Gregg Walker is attempting to use to silence us permanently.
Last week, after reading a badly-written draft motion to appeal this verdict from Crivello, Nichols & Hall, I decided to terminate our relationship with them and handed my defense to Fred Melms, a trusted attorney who not only helped us sue to remove Trump from Wisconsin’s ballot, but successfully helped us secure a Conditional Use Permit for a long-contested beer garden while also suing the Town of Minocqua in federal court for political harassment.
I’ve been so impressed with Fred’s work that I recently created a beer in his honor called “Grateful Fred” Red Ale.

Once Fred started re-writing my motion to appeal this weekend, he immediately located Polzin v. Helmbrecht and submitted an emergency motion requesting that the Oneida County Circuit Court “stay” the enforcement of the $750,000 judgment against us during the appeal process.
It is incredibly important that we obtain this “stay,” because Walker and the Lakeland Times, through their attorney Matt Fernholz, are trying to start the collection process against us.

If Fernholz and Walker can convince Judge Stenz (the only judge in tiny Forest County, population ~9K) to refuse this “stay,” they will soon be able to have the sheriff seize our taproom, our inventory, and everything else we need to make the Minocqua Brewing Company operate. 
It should be noted that Matt Fernholz is not from Northern Wisconsin, but from Milwaukee’s suburbs in Waukesha County, which is the center of Republican power in Wisconsin. He is Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ personal attorney and also the same attorney who represented Wisconsin’s Republican Party in our lawsuit to remove Trump from Wisconsin’s ballot.  In my mind, Fernholz IS THE LEGAL WING of Wisconsin’s Republican Party which has directed their ire at the Minocqua Brewing Company because we’ve been a force in helping keep Wisconsin blue over the last several elections.

What's particularly disheartening about our current situation is that we shouldn’t have to worry about the judgment or collections, because we were insured against defamation claims and had been paying West Bend Mutual and Society Insurance every month to ensure they would protect us. However, after the attorneys they hired to defend us lost at trial against Walker and the Lakeland Times, West Bend Mutual and Society Insurance intervened in the case and asked Judge Stenz to relieve them of their duty to pay the judgment, but until they pay up, or we get a stay of enforcement, Gregg Walker and the Lakeland Times can use the unconstitutional judgment to shut us down. 

Despite the fact that Crivello, Nichols & Hall failed to cite Polzin v. Helmbrecht, losing the case for us, and that there is conflict between us and West Bend Mutual and Society Insurance, West Bend Mutual and Society are now refusing to pay for us to retain independent counsel, even though they are legally obligated to do so.
Read that again, because this is important.
Our insurance company hired incompetent lawyers to defend us, and after we lost, they are now not only refusing to pay the claim, but they are also refusing to pay for us to replace those incompetent insurance lawyers with competent ones to protect us.
I think most every American has a story on how they’ve been screwed by an insurance company--and maybe I’m simply too close to this situation to look at it objectively--but I think this one takes the cake!
West Bend Mutual and Society Insurance have been absolutely dastardly in their bad faith handling of this claim, and because of that, we’re suing them.
So folks, here is where I ask you for some help.
Because I can no longer rely on my insurance company to pay for my defense, even though my company’s umbrella policy explicitly covers lawsuits of this nature, I have to again use Minocqua Brewing Company’s resources to fight back, and we simply don’t have this kind of money as a small little liberal brewery in Northern Wisconsin.
There’s no doubt that I’ve made the Minocqua Brewing Company a lightning rod in Wisconsin politics, and as a result, I've made my company a huge target for the Republican Party. 

I swore after the insurrection on January 6th that I’d do everything in my power to never let that happen to our country again, and that I'd use the universal popularity of beer to help ensure that our crazy little dysfunctional swing state would never be manipulated again in an attempted presidential coup.
Would I have been so outspoken years ago now that I know how hard Republican's would come after my company?

We’ve been able to do a lot of good in this state over the years, but I can’t fight this legal battle alone.
The Republican Party in Wisconsin, through Matt Fernholz and Robin Vos, is using the rural judicial system in Northern Wisconsin, and potentially even their connections at West Bend Mutual and Society Insurance, to stop me and my company’s progressive activism.
I need your help again to fight back, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because my company has become a bulwark against MAGA bullying and disinformation in the reddest part of our state.
If you can chip in to help us fight back, please donate here.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting the Minocqua Brewing Company. Our struggle is Wisconsin’s struggle. We just endure it a little more lightly because we have beer at the ready.
Thanks again for all of your help.
Kirk Bangstad
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC.

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