East Hawaii News

BIDR Takes Humane Society to Court

April 18, 2016, 3:50 PM HST
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File photo.

File photo.

Big Island Dog Rescue filed a civil lawsuit in Third Circuit Court on Friday, naming the Hawai’i Island Humane Society and several individuals, including HIHS’s Executive Director Donna Whitaker, as defendants.

The complaint alleges that the defendants interfered with BIDR’s operations, invaded privacy, and attempted to derail the group’s public perception.

BIDR is a 501(C3) non-profit organization that ships Hawai’i dogs to partnered mainland shelters that the groups says have high adoptions and low kill rates.

In an e-mail to Big Island Now, BIDR Board Chairman Thad Smith provided a copy of the legal complaint for damages alongside a series of e-mails that appear to be between Whitaker and the other defendants: Elizabeth Jose, HIHS Board Director; Deborah Baker, Principal of public relations firm Current Events; and Kathy Kim Peters.

The e-mails, which Smith says were obtained via “an anonymous source having access to them,” detail what BIDR believes were “ill intent and actions” on behalf of HIHS management.

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In one e-mail, which appears to be authored by Baker, it outlines the group’s attempt to thwart BIDR’s efforts, saying it needed a similar outline to a campaign for one of Current Events’ other clients, the Thirty Meter Telescope.

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“We will get slaughtered if we battle this out in the media with the facts,” the e-mail read. “Bluntly, the fact is HIHS did kill these animals BIDR offered to save, you are not cooperating with the other rescue organizations, and it is in HIHS’ best business interest to remain, and have your competing animal agencies function at max capacity.”

Later in the e-mail, it directs individuals to “Look up organizations and tie BIDR to those organizations. Make it personal! Play the victim, character assassination (background checks), A carefully worded contract, tell the public you reached out and tried to work with organizations.”

An e-mail with Peters’ name in the subject line later says that she has “several ties with the County Council, Courts, Mayors office, and the police chief. We also have contacts at the state and federal level if need be. I also have a few girls I can exploit to do our bidding. Lol.”

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HIHS attorney Shawn Nakoa told Big Island Now Monday morning that the alleged e-mails are “completely fraudulent.”

Baker, like Nakoa, says the e-mails are fabricated.

“Attached to your email to Hawai’i Island Humane Society advising of this lawsuit were several documents designed to look like authentic email correspondence, some of which were attributed to me,” Baker released in a statement. “Let me state very clearly that I did not write these emails and they have been fabricated by someone unknown to me.

“I cannot begin to understand why someone would deliberately lie and attempt to assassinate my character. Frankly, I am offended, shocked, disgusted and mad as hell that a person or persons would knowingly attack my character and integrity with falsehoods. In response, I will be taking appropriate legal action.”

Among the lawsuit’s claims is the allegation by BIDR that HIHS took advantage of a partnership between the organizations. Last year, when a relationship between BIDR and HIHS begun to spiral, HIHS allegedly worked towards creating a positive image for itself while using images and information belonging to BIDR with the exclusion of BIDR credit. On one instance, HIHS allegedly used images during its annual Tropical Paws fundraiser.

BIDR claims in its lawsuit that HIHS’s efforts to exclude them led to poor public perception of the group’s involvement in an effort that they authored.

Smith told Big Island Now in an e-mail, with files of the alleged e-mails attached, that they were the push to make the group file suit.

“The attached emails provided to us were the final impetus for us to file the lawsuit against HIHS in an attempt to stop the ongoing damage their willful actions have continued to cause,” said Smith.

Whitaker deferred comment to HIHS attorney Nakoa, who said that HIHS has the intent to “vigorously defend the suit and file a counterclaim.”

Last July, HIHS placed a halt to adoptions to rescue organization, affecting groups outside of BIDR, and implemented a contract that identified certain legal appropriations, including updates on animals shipped off island and other items that would link HIHS to the adoptions.

Damir Kouliev, a Hilo Attorney, drafted the lawsuit, but legal handlings will be conducted by Geordie Duckler of The Animal Law Practice. Duckler operates out of Oregon.

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