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'Skunkie' Patriarch Passes Out in Small Claims Court: "Lake City Reporter put me over the edge"

Posted April 24, 2015  08:15 am

Bernie Haake being attended to by Lake City's Fire Chief, Frank Armajo. Shortly after that Mr. Haake was brought to the hospital.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  During the past 6 months the legal issues confronting the folks of Skunkie Acres, the animal rescue organization previously located north of Lake City have been many. According to Skunkie Acres 83 year old patriarch, Bernie Haake, animal control and DCF issues "became overwhelming" after he was given a suspended 30 day jail sentence on April 15 and then a short while later found himself in Judge Tom Coleman's Small Claims Court.

Mr. Haake's wife and daughter filed a small claims complaint against the Lake City Reporter and its cub reporter, Emily Buchanan. Mr. Haake said, "The pressure from the Lake City Reporter put me over the edge and I passed out at the hearing. The doctors said I had collapsed from stress."

The Haake clan has had its hands full for some time. Years ago they adopted their two grandchildren and recently they have been involved in a custody battle with DCF and the two adopted girls' parents. Charges and counter charges have been flying from both sides.

Department of Children and Families (DCF)

Prior to the small claims case, a contempt hearing on April 15 had the Haakes in Court answering DCF charges that they had contact with their adopted granddaughter in contravention of a "no contact" court order.

Kyle Skinner on the stand.

DCF's star witness, 25 year old Kyle Skinner, a repeated convicted criminal, testified that he was cohabitating with one of the grandaughters, a 17 year old, and that he had referred to her as his wife. The 17 year old was the object of the "no contact" court order.

When the Haake's attorney, Dan Archer, asked Mr. Skinner who brought the 17 year old to him, Mr. Skinner testified it was his "best friend." When the attorney asked for Skinner's best friend's name, Mr. Skinner pleaded the 5th.

Neither DCF, the Columbia County Sheriff, or the Chief of the Guardian Ad Litem program had a problem with Mr. Skinner cohabitating with a minor.

Circuit Court Judge, Mark Feagle, listens.

At the hearing's conclusion, Circuit Court Judge, Mark Feagle, found the Haakes in contempt of court for violating a court order against seeing their adopted granddaughter. The Judge told the Haake's, "No contact means no contact."

Judge Feagle sentenced the 83 year old Haake to 30 days in jail and suspended the sentence.

Attorney Archer said the state failed to prove its case.

The DCF prosecutor protested. She argued that Mr. Haake be sent to jail for the max, 6 months, to teach him a lesson.

DCF Prosecutor, Tonya Davis, would not say who she was. (file photo)

The representative of the Guardian Ad Litem program testified that the Haakes should be in jail. The Guardian Ad Litem representative never identified herself to the Court.

As folks were leaving the courtroom, your reporter asked the DCF prosecutor, "Who are you?"

The prosecutor answered, "I don't think you need to know."

Your reporter responded, "I think I do."

The prosecutor kept walking. Court personnel identified her as Tonya Davis.

Off to Small Claims Court

This is the "courtesy" photo published in the Lake City Reporter on December 3, 2014. Generally, the Reporter does not reveal external photo sources.

The next stop for the shaken Haakes was County Court Judge Tom Coleman's Small Claims Court.

On December 3, 2014, the Lake City Reporter published an article: "'Skunkie' owner will face judge in horse-car wreck"

On December 2, the day before publication, the Lake City Reporter's Emily Buchanan emailed the Haakes a photo that the paper later identified in its news article as a "courtesy" photo. The paper did not state who provided the photo. Ms. Buchanan's email, with the picture, stated the following: "Here is the picture we have. Is that the same horse that was hit last night and who is the person in the picture?"

The email was sent from Ms. Buchanan's personal AOL email account. The horse in the photo was yellow.

This is the photo Barbara Haake emailed the LCR's Buchanan before it published its article.

A couple of hours later, Barbara Haake emailed Ms. Buchanan: "The horse in the picture is Trigger, Samantha Haake is the girl in the picture. I have attached a pic of the horse that was hit..."

The photo that Barbara Haake provided showed a horse that was white with black markings.

On December 3, 2014, The Lake City Reporter published its "courtesy" photo. It showed a yellow horse in the middle of a country road, with Samantha Haake trying to corral the horse.

At 1:53 pm on December 3, Barbara Haake emailed Ms. Buchanan four pictures of the horse that was hit in the road. One of the pictures had the horse's guts hanging out.

One photo of four Barbara Haake emailed to Ms. Buchanan after the photo of the yellow horse was published. The sheet covers the horses guts.

Barbara Haake wrote Ms. Buchanan: "Emily, I have attached more pictures of the horse that was hit. The horse in the picture is very much live and well. I have attached a full picture of the horse alive and after the accident.   We asked you if you wanted the picture of the dead horse and you declined..."

The Lake City Reporter ignored the new photos. It did not make a correction.

On December 17, 2014, The Haakes had filed a claim against the Lake City Reporter and its cub reporter, Emily Buchanan. The substance or elements of the claim was not clear. The Haakes are not attorneys.

Editor Bridges acts to defend the Lake City Reporter, himself

On February 11, 2015, Lake City Editor/Writer, Robert Bridges, emailed a motion to one of the Court clerks. It was his motion to dismiss the complaint against both the Lake City Reporter and Ms. Buchanan.

Your reporter's understanding of the rules of the Court at that time were that pleadings by attorneys were to be filed through the courts e-file system. Pro Se litigants must have filed in person and had their pleadings clocked-in by the clerk.

The Lake City Reporter's Bridges is not an attorney. It is against the FL Statutes for a non-lawyer to represent a corporation. The Lake City Reporter is clearly a corporation. Mr. Bridges was practicing law w/out a license.

County Attorney Joel Foreman enters the picture

On February 12, County Attorney Joel Foreman's law firm was hired by the Lake City Reporter to defend the newspaper. The paper had endorsed Mr. Foreman in his quest for county attorney during the 2014 election cycle. A notice of appearance was filed by one of the firms staff attorneys.

Judge Tom Coleman explains the proceedings to the Haakes.

On February 13, Mr. Foreman's law firm filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The Hearing: April 15, 2015

A few minutes into the Small Claims Court hearing on April 15, Bernie Haake passed out. Judge Coleman wasted no time showing concern for Mr. Haake and said he was going to grant a continuance based on the circumstances and that Mrs. Haake shouldn't worry about the court proceeding right then. She should take care of her husband.

On April 21, Judge Coleman ordered the hearing on the Lake City Reporter's motion to dismiss continued to May 20.

The Haakes listen to Judge Coleman shortly before Mr. Haake passed out.

The Foreman Threat

On April 21, the Haake's received a letter from Mr. Foreman's law firm. The letter threatened that if the Haakes did not withdraw the suit and ask for dismissal with prejudice, the Foreman firm would file on behalf of the Lake City Reporter a motion for sanctions against them; move for dismissal; and sue them for the Lake City Reporter's attorney fees.

Bernie Haake said about the small claims court episode, "The Lake City Reporter put me over the edge. It was the straw that broke the camel's back."

Barbara Haake told the Observer late yesterday evening. "I am not intimidated. I plan to read the court rules and make a motion to the court asking permission to re-file my complaint. Small claims court is supposed to be the people's court, not a court for slick attorneys."


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