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Trial for Lakeland Times v Minocqua Brewing Company begins

Katie Thoresen

Gregg Walker, owner of the Lakeland Times, is suing Kirk Bangstad and his business, the Minocqua Brewing Company.

The civil trial starts Monday in Oneida County Court.

The first thing to know about this case is that it involves a lot of Facebook posts.

Walker’s suing Bangstad over Facebook and blog posts he made through his brewery’s online presence.

Minocqua Brewing Company is big on social media- As of Tuesday, they have 82,000 followers on Facebook and regularly posts about Northwoods and Wisconsin politics.

Starting in 2020, Bangstad posted lengthy criticisms of the Lakeland Times and Walker, which Walker says weren’t true and hurt his reputation.

Court documents referred to specific times Bangstad called him a “crook”, “misogynist”, and said that the Lakeland Times had called Local Chamber of Commerce Director Krystal Westfahl “retarded.”

During opening statements, Walker’s lawyer focused on personal attacks by Bangstad.

For example, Bangstad made a post that alleged Walker had engaged in elder abuse of his father and another that Walker may have let his 23 year old brother bleed to death in a hunting accident so that he could inherit the newspaper business.

Walker requests compensation for libel and defamation of a business as well as monetary relief for personal distress.

“The evidence is going to show that this is not a case about two people that are just trading political insults. Instead, the testimony is going to show that Mr. Bangstad has gone after Mr. Walker and his family in very personal ways and brought up a number of things that are just flatly false,” said Walker’s lawyer

Bangstad’s lawyer argued the exact opposite, saying that this is very much about politics.

“I find it incredulous, the statement that there’s no politics involved,” he said.

He argued that Walker himself as editor of the Lakeland Times drew more attention to his posts.

“He's claiming reputational harm on the one hand, and then assists it. These claims are laid out in detail, multiple times by his paper. And again, there's another part to the story that you have to hear,” he said.

Plus, he said that Bangstad had already apologized and retracted false statements.

The jury trial is currently scheduled to run through Friday.

WXPR will update you when the jury reaches a decision.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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