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Partial settlement reached in lawsuit over horse treatment claims

By Emily Mieure

Jackson Hole News&Guide

Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Former Wilson outfitter Forest Stearns and five people he sued last year for defamation have reached a settlement in the case. But litigation against at least three other defendants will continue.

Complaints of defamation, civil conspiracy and interference with a business contract were dismissed in October against defendants Robin Winters, Liz Hirschland, Barbara Zimmer, Cody Sloan and Kim Harrington.

“The reason for this request is that plaintiff and the above-named defendants have reached a settlement in this matter,” court documents state, “with each party paying its own costs and fees.”

The settlement comes over a year after Stearns sued them for “leading a crusade” against him over a video that showed Stearns with a distraught horse that later died.

The video, taken in 2017, caused the Teton County Sheriff’s Office to criminally charge Stearns with animal cruelty.

Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda found Stearns not guilty after a two-day bench trial.

But Stearns said acquittal or not, the ordeal put him out of business.

The settlement was filed in Teton County District Court as confidential. Attorneys for the defendants would not disclose how much money was exchanged in the agreement.

Stearns did not return the News&Guide’s call requesting comment. His attorney, Dick Mulligan, also wouldn’t provide information beyond court documents.

“I am bound by confidentiality,” Mulligan said. “I can make no comment.”

The civil suit remains active against Mary Wendell Lampton, who took the video of Stearns.

The case is also still active against defendants Pia Valar and Leigh Vogel, records indicate.

Court documents state that the “amount in controversy” is $1 million but there is no information about what Stearns received in the partial settlement and what he is still seeking.

The fight began in August 2017 when Lampton, who lived near Stearns, took a video of the outfitter with Buddy the horse tied to a fence.

“Forest, I know about training horses,” the viewer can hear Lampton say in the video as she approaches Stearns. “I had polo horses for years. You are abusive to your horses.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Stearns replied.

Lampton then points out that the horse is bleeding.

“Get off my property,” Stearns tells her.

In the video the horse is lying on its side with ropes attached to it and the fence. The horse, which later died, starts to violently kick at the end of the minute-long video.

Stearns told deputies he was trying to shoe the horse.

The conclusion at trial was that Stearns’ actions were legal, but outdated.

Lampton’s video was shared online and went viral. Vogel started a Facebook page called “Justice for Horses of Stearns Outfitters-Wyoming,” which is where Stearns says many defamatory comments were made. That Facebook page has since been changed to “Justice for Buddy-Wilson, Wyoming.”

“The outrageous misconduct of the defendants is beyond all bounds of decency and wholly intolerable in a civilized society,” Mulligan wrote in the initial complaint.

The lawsuit also claims that the defendants were the reason the Wyoming State Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides pulled his guiding and outfitting licenses.

Stearns has never applied to have his licenses reinstated, according to Brandy Durante, an administrative assistant for the state board. Stearns wasn’t allowed to advertise for clients when his license was deemed invalid and he couldn’t work at Brooks Lake Lodge (it cut ties with Stearns after he was charged), so he hasn’t had a reason to renew, his attorney said.

“The defendants’ actions resulted in plaintiff being forced out of business,” Mulligan wrote. “Despite the fact that plaintiff was found not guilty of the criminal charges, defendants kept up their vicious attack of plaintiff, publishing untruthful and defamatory allegations, including attacking the judge who had found defendant not guilty, both verbally and in writing.”

The partial settlement filed in October is the first development in the lawsuit since it was filed in August 2018.

A hearing involving the remaining defendants is on the docket for Jan. 23.

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