Over the years, John Stokes, host of The Edge radio show in Kalispell, has used the airwaves to deliver plenty of attacks. In 2001, he compared Holocaust survivor Klaus Stern to a “cheap whore,” and he’s repeatedly compared local environmentalists to Nazis and terrorists.
But he crossed a line with Kalispell residents Davar Gardner and his son, Todd, and now he may be paying for it—to the tune of $90,000.
In August 2007, Stokes and the Gardners began a legal fight over exposed conduit cables lying on a property easement—owned by the Gardners—that holds Stokes’ radio towers. The battle was resolved when Stokes complied with the Gardners’ requests and buried the cables.
But starting in February 2007, according to court documents, Stokes began using his radio show to accuse the Gardners of bank fraud, lying in court, and submitting false affidavits. In October 2007 the Gardners filed civil defamation charges against Stokes and the corporations that own the station, Z-600 and Skyline Broadcasters Inc.
On March 14, Flathead District Court Judge Katherine R. Curtis awarded the Gardners $60,000 in compensatory damages and $30,000 in punitive damages, to be paid by the two corporations.
According to court papers filed in Lake County, Stokes claims to be the sole shareholder in both corporations, but both were dissolved after he failed to file the necessary annual reports with the state of Montana in 2002. Nevertheless, as recently as a year ago, Stokes claimed as part of a mortgage agreement filed in Lake County that he was the “sole shareholder” in the two businesses.
Stokes tells it differently now. In a March 18 interview with the Independent, Stokes said, “Those are just empty shell corporations that don’t belong to me.”
Even stranger, Stokes says that both Skyline and Z-600 belong to the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN)—a longtime critic of Stokes’ caustic commentary. After Stokes let the corporate registrations lapse, the MHRN filed for the names in 2005. MHRN official Travis McAdam says the group registered for the corporate names in an attempt to show the Federal Communications Commission that Stokes mismanaged the radio station; the group is contesting Stokes’ broadcasting license.
The Gardners’ attorney, Trent Gardner—Davar’s son—says the March 14 court judgment applies to Stokes’ radio station, and not to the corporate name owners.
The Gardners’ defamation case against Stokes personally will likely go to trial this fall.