The owner of a Kalispell radio station, facing a $3.8 million verdict in a defamation case, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
John Stokes filed for bankruptcy last Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Butte. The filings also cover his two unregistered corporations, Z-600 Inc. and Skyline Broadcasting.
In September, a District Court jury in Flathead County found that Stokes made malicious statements during a talk show on KGEZ against neighboring businessmen Davar and Todd Gardner. The Gardners said Stokes was complaining about a 2001 lawsuit filed over property easements.
KGEZ has two radio towers on 32 acres of easements on a 160-acre site of which Doug Anderson and the Gardners each own segments. The Gardners own a recreational vehicle store and an auction barn near KGEZ on U.S. 93 South.
Stokes had claimed the easements essentially gave him an ownership right over the entire 160 acres. The Gardners and Anderson disputed that in court and prevailed in 2005.
In the defamation trial, the jury ordered Stokes to pay $1.8 million in actual damages and $2 million in punitive damages to the Gardners for making false accusations against them on his radio show on three occasions in 2007.
After the trial, Stokes said he could not pay $3.8 million and he would have to go out of business if required to do so.
“We were expecting (the bankruptcy filing). It’s another step in his legal maneuvers,” Todd Gardner said Monday.
Stokes is appealing the defamation award to the Montana Supreme Court.
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