Attorneys for Georgia poll workers seek dismissal of Gateway Pundit’s bankruptcy petition

By Paul Wagman

Attorneys for the two Georgia poll workers who have sued the Gateway Pundit for defamation are asking authorities in Florida to throw out the Pundit’s recent bankruptcy filing there or to allow their case in St. Louis to proceed regardless.

In a May 31 motion filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in West Palm Beach, the attorneys contend that the April 24 filing for voluntary reorganization under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code by TGP Communications, LLC, which does business as the Gateway Pundit, was nothing but another “in a long line of stall tactics.”  

“To date, the Defendants’ strategy in the Missouri Litigation has had one goal: delay,” the motion asserts.  “This chapter 11 filing is just the newest effort … to prevent the Freeman Plaintiffs from proving their claims in a court of law.”

The court has scheduled a brief hearing on the motion for July 2.  

The Gateway Pundit is a far-right conspiracy-oriented website published by St. Louisan James Hoft.  On Dec. 4, 2020, Hoft published an article accusing Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss of having committed voter fraud against Donald Trump while counting the ballots in Atlanta a month earlier.  Georgia voting officials dismissed the story as bogus within 24 hours, but the Gateway Pundit published 28 more articles repeating the accusations over the next couple of months, and dozens more since, according to the motion. 

The consequences for the two women were drastic – death threats and harassment so severe that Moss moved out of her house and Freeman felt “nowhere … safe.” In response, and as the Gateway Pundit continued to attack them, the women in December, 2021 filed a defamation suit in St. Louis Circuit Court against Hoft; his identical twin brother Joe Hoft, who contributes to the website; and TGP Communications, LLC.  

But progress in the case has been halting.  

The defendants’ delay tactics, according to the May 31 motion, have included: 

  • “(a) seeking to remove the Missouri Litigation to Federal Court (denied), 
  • (b) seeking a Protective Order that would require attorneys for the Freeman Plaintiffs to fly to Missouri or Georgia anytime they wanted to look at discovery (denied),
  •  (c) filing counterclaims for defamation against the Freeman Plaintiffs and their attorneys (all dismissed)” and more.

“As one tactic after another failed, the motion says, James and his brother Joe Hoft, who contributes to the publication, finally agreed to be deposed. The interviews were scheduled late last month on May 28 and May 29.  But on April 24, the depositions were “noticed,” meaning officially scheduled. “That same day, the Debtor [TGP] filed this Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.”

The filing, the motion asserts, is in “bad faith.”  TGP’s own filings with the court show the company “is cash-flow positive and easily able to meet its debts in the ordinary course of business.” Moreover, the company made “highly suspicious loans and other payments” before making the bankruptcy petition, including a total of about $50,000 in payments to Jim Hoft himself and his husband.  

 “Put simply,” the motion says, “the red flags here are large and numerous.  This case is a pure litigation tactic …”

After TGP filed for bankruptcy in April, some media outlets suggested that the company’s business had indeed suffered through a loss of traffic in the aftermath of the 2020 election.  But the motion notes that Hoft himself asserted that the site is “doing better than ever” in an article posted the day after the bankruptcy filing. 

Even if the bankruptcy court decides against dismissing the case altogether, the motion contends, it should lift the stay on the defamation case that the bankruptcy petition automatically triggered.  Lifting the stay “will harm neither the Debtor nor its estate,” because fact discovery was nearly complete and wouldn’t require much more of Hoft’s time or money, and because “the costs of defending the Missouri litigation are covered by insurance.” But not lifting the stay will “significantly harm…” the two women.  

Unstated by both sides to the bankruptcy litigation, but clearly looming behind it, is the huge financial risk to the Hoft brothers and TGP posed by the St. Louis case. Just last December, a Washington, D.C. jury awarded the two Georgia women a $148 million judgment against former New York City Mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani for having told the same lies about them that they accuse the Gateway Pundit of telling. Giuliani declared bankruptcy days later. Alex Jones, the conspiracy-monger who called the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax, got slammed with more than $1 billion in fines. He is also now seeking bankruptcy. 

Moreover, TGP Communications and James Hoft (but not Joe Hoft) are also at financial risk in a separate defamation case brought against them in Denver by Eric Coomer, the former security chief of Dominion Voting Systems.  Coomer was also accused by the Gateway Pundit of election fraud, and “was forced to flee his home in response to credible threats,” according to a court filing. 

The Coomer defamation case was also stayed by the Florida bankruptcy proceeding.  But Coomer’s lawyers filed a “joinder” June 8 supporting the earlier motion by Freeman and Moss’s lawyers seeking dismissal of the bankruptcy filing or, regardless, the lifting of the automatic stays.   

If Hoft prevails against these attacks on his bankruptcy filing, he may be able to escape his legal troubles with relatively minor financial penalties and even continued ownership and control of his Gateway Pundit website, bankruptcy experts say.  That’s because his petition was filed under Subchapter V of the Bankruptcy Code, a four-year old provision that was designed to make it easier for small businesses to make their way through bankruptcy by, among other things, allow(ing) for greater flexibility in negotiating restructuring plans with creditors,” according to the Department of Justice.  

A few other issues simmering in the Florida filings are also worth noting.

The TGP’s lawyers have asked the court, for example, to allow them to “suppress personal identifiable information” – names, residential addresses and email addresses — for Hoft’s contract writers. These are freelancers for the Gateway Pundit, some of whom are subject to identification in the court filings because they are creditors.  

“Given the conservative nature of the Debtor’s publications and opinions, many of the Contract Writers are subject to extreme criticisms from less conservative groups,” the motion explains. “Further, in the past, several of the Contract Writers have received threats of bodily harm from groups and individuals.”

But Mary Ida Townson, the U.S. Trustee for Region 21, which includes Florida, responded May 30 with a 15-page objection.  She wrote that transparency concerning creditors is the standard in bankruptcy proceeding, and that Hoft’s lawyers had submitted “nothing more than vague statements supporting the request.” She also warned against creating an “unfavorable precedent in this and other media industry Chapter 11 cases.”

In addition, Townson took note of the fact that “The Debtor claims it operates from 1820 N. Jensen Beach Blvd., Unit 1120, Jensen Beach, FL 34957.” But “this address is actually the location of a Mailboxes, Inc.,” she wrote. (The GJR reported on the matter of the address May 2.)  And in their motion to dismiss, the lawyers for Freeman and Moss said the mailbox address and related facts “raised questions about whether venue is proper” or represents, instead, an effort “to manufacture venue in the Southern District of Florida.”    

TGP’s filings make no direct reference to James Hoft living in St. Louis or TGP having any connection with the city for which it is named.  However, a statement to TGP from U.S. Bank – submitted by TGP itself as part of its bankruptcy filing – is clearly addressed to a residence in the City of St. Louis.  The statement covers the month of April 2024.

Paul Wagman is a former Post-Dispatch reporter and FleishmanHillard executive who is now an independent reporter, editor and communications consultant.

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