In a new lawsuit, Lakeland Times publisher Gregg Walker is suing Minocqua Brewing Company (MBC) owner Kirk Bangstad for punitive as well as compensatory damages in a new defamation lawsuit, after Bangstad posted on Facebook what the complaint says is outrageous and extreme false information about Walker and about the accidental death of Walker’s brother 35 years ago.
The new lawsuit follows another defamation lawsuit filed by Walker against Bangstad for alleged defamatory comments made on Facebook since June of 2020, most notably those calling Walker a “crook” and “misogynist,” and falsely accusing The Times of writing that the director of the local chamber of commerce was “retarded.”
In the new lawsuit, Walker is asking for $200,000 or three times plaintiffs’ compensatory damages, whichever is greater, for defamatory and libelous statements posted on Facebook, in which Bangstad accused Walker of standing by while his brother died after an accident in order to inherit the newspaper from his father, the complaint states.
While compensatory damages are designed to compensate a plaintiff for actual losses, punitive damages are considered punishment and are awarded when the defendant’s behavior is found to be especially harmful.
That’s the case here, the complaint asserts, as Walker was not present to witness his brother’s death and was more than five miles away, which the medical examiner’s report proves, nor did Walker inherit the newspaper.
“Defendants’ statement that Walker failed to aid his dying brother to inherit The Lakeland Times is false, as Walker did not inherit The Lakeland Times,” the complaint states. “Rather, he is only part-owner and purchased his shares while his father was still alive.”
The post was so egregious, the complaint states, that following the post, one of MBC’s employees, David “Ty” Kunelius, quit the company in disgust and apologized to Walker.
“That’s not me,” the complaint quotes Kunelius as saying to Walker. “I’m done. … It’s horrible. ... They brought me to work there in May and this stuff is below the belt, way beyond. It’s… horrible.”
Bangstad’s post on Aug. 8 went even further in its defamation, Walker’s attorneys, Matthew Fernholz and Ashley McNulty, assert in the complaint, accusing Walker of engaging in elder abuse to his father for financial gain to the detriment of his stepmother, which was also patently false, the attorneys assert.
The complaint accuses Bangstad of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Defendants’ publishing of this statement about his brother, which would have been verified as false by an independent source, the Medical Examiner’s Report, was extreme and outrageous,” the complaint states. “Similarly, defendants’ failure to research this statement of fact, as well as the accusation that Gregg took advantage of his father for financial gain, before posting them was extreme and outrageous.”
Bangstad’s conduct — in which dug up a traumatic event in Walker’s life from 35 years ago and publicly implicated him in being involved in his brother’s death — has caused unwanted physical, emotional, and psychological distress for Walker, the attorneys asserted.
“Similarly, the public accusation that he took advantage of his ailing, incapacitated father for financial gain and to the detriment of his stepmother has caused Walker physical, emotional, and psychological distress,” the complaint states.

Details: The defamatory post
According to the new lawsuit, on Aug. 8 Bangstad published a post targeting Walker and The Lakeland Times, among other things referring to Walker as the “misogynist publisher of the Lakeland Times[.]”
Bangstad had made that alleged defamatory and false statement multiple times before, but in the Aug. 8 post Bangstad also made what Fernholz and McNulty call demonstrably false statements about the death of Walker’s brother Brad.
“This guy [referring to Walker], who allegedly stood by and did nothing while his brother accidentally fell from a tree stand and died — who allegedly knew he would inherit the once-legitimate Lakeland times (sic) if his brother was out of the picture, is SUING US for calling [him] a crook,” Bangstad posted on the MBC Facebook page Aug. 8, according to the complaint.
But that was not at all that happened, the attorneys wrote.
“In fact, on November 21, 1987, Walker’s 23-year-old brother, Brad, accidentally shot himself while hunting and passed away shortly thereafter,” the complaint states.
Specifically, the bullet from the muzzle of the gun hit the clip in Brad Walker’s chest pocket, several inches from his chest, discharging shrapnel. Brad Walker climbed down his tree stand, stuffed his wounds, and attempted to make it to his vehicle, and passed away shortly thereafter. 
“[The medical examiner’s report] indicates that another, nameless hunter discovered Brad and left him to call for help,” the complaint states. “However, Bradley had died by the time the medic, police, and Department of Natural Resources arrived.”
Pursuant to the report, the attorneys wrote, Brad Walker’s official cause of death was an “accidental self-inflicted gun-shot wound,” which led to Brad Walker’s shock and blood loss. 
“Plaintiff Gregg Walker, who was 17-years-old on November 21, 1987, was not present to witness his brother’s horrific death, but was over five (5) miles away,” the complaint states. “Notably, Gregg Walker did not inherit The Lakeland Times, but instead purchased his share in 2006, while his father was still alive. Further, Walker is only part-owner of the paper and does not hold complete ownership.”
In the post, the attorneys assert, Bangstad also accused Walker of “fil[ing] for his elderly and incapacitated father’s divorce, all-the-while keeping his stepmother away from his dying father so that he could direct more money from his dad’s will to himself is SUING US for calling him a misogynist . . . and a crook.”  
Bangstad’s statement, which accuses Walker of engaging in elder abuse, is false, the attorneys asserted, and they wrote that Bangstad also referred to Walker as a “crook” and accused him of criminal behavior.
“Likewise, Bangstad again calls Walker a ‘misogynist’ and the ‘misogynist publisher of The Lakeland Times,’” the complaint states. “Bangstad also describes The Lakeland Times as ‘once-legitimate,’ which insinuates that it is not now legitimate, and urges people to ‘quit the Lakeland Times.’” 
More alleged defamation
According to the complaint in the original lawsuit, the string of alleged defamatory and libelous posts by Bangstad started on June 6, 2020, during the pandemic, after The Times published a news analysis by this reporter the previous day, entitled “Tavern League Lobbyist: OC health department practicing ‘biological McCarthyism.’” 
At the time of the story, the attorneys wrote, Bangstad was running for Wisconsin Assembly.
“On June 6, 2020, Bangstad posted a lengthy post criticizing the publication of the story on his campaign Facebook page,” the complaint states. “In the course of the post, Bangstad referred to Walker as a ‘crook.’ Along with labelling Walker as a ‘crook,’ Bangstad identified him as the ‘owner of the Lakeland Times and River News.’”
Bangstad later said that Walker and [Richard] Moore “probably think this virus [Covid-19] is a hoax,” the attorneys wrote. 
“On June 10, 2020, Bangstad posted on Lakeland Times’ Facebook page that Lakeland Times was not ‘a real paper,’ was an ‘embarrassment to our town,’ and was a ‘propaganda machine,’” the complaint states. “Bangstad urged people to subscribe to the Vilas County News-Review.”  
Then, on June 12, the complaint continues, Walker’s attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bangstad, demanding that Bangstad retract his statements that Walker was a “crook.”  
“As set forth in the letter, Walker has no criminal history,” the complaint states. “Therefore, it is libel per se to refer to him as a ‘crook,’ meaning he has engaged in criminal conduct.”
After he received the letter, the attorneys wrote, on June 15, Bangstad posted on his Facebook page that he would not be retracting his statement that Walker was a “crook,” and went on to refer to Walker as “the local misogynist who owns a paper that no one reads.”  
“On June 18, 2020, Bangstad posted once again on his Facebook page that Walker was a ‘misogynistic bully’ and again referred to him as a ‘crook,’” the attorneys wrote. “On June 22, 2020, counsel for the plaintiffs sent a second cease-and-desist letter, this time to Bangstad’s attorney at the time, Frederick Melms.”  
That second cease-and desist letter demanded a retraction of Bangstad’s reference to Walker as a “misogynistic bully,” the attorneys wrote, observing that the dictionary defines a misogynist as “a person who hates women.”  
“Bangstad has provided no evidentiary support for his assertion that Walker is a ‘misogynistic bully’ or that Walker is a ‘crook,’ meaning he has a criminal record or has engaged in criminal activity,” the complaint states.  
On March 26, 2021, the attorneys observe, Lakeland Times published an article noting that Bangstad’s campaign finance report failed to balance by more than $18,000. That prompted another post, they assert.
“The next day, March 27, 2021, Bangstad responded by writing a lengthy post on the Minocqua Brewing Facebook page,” the complaint states. “In the post, Bangstad once again referred to Walker as a ‘misogynist’ and also asserted that Walker and Lakeland Times had referred to the Local Chamber of Commerce Director Krystal Westfahl as ‘retarded.’ Bangstad and Minocqua Brewing’s Facebook post used quotation marks around ‘retarded,’ implying that this term was once used verbatim by Walker or Lakeland Times.”
That statement was false, the attorneys wrote, asserting that neither Walker nor The Lakeland Times had ever once used the term “retarded” in any publication when referring to Krystal Westfahl or any other individual, and, what’s more, in a subsequent media interview after this lawsuit was filed, Bangstad admitted that he may have incorrectly alleged that Walker and Lakeland Times had referred to Westfahl as “retarded.”  
“According to the article, ‘Bangstad told the Wisconsin State Journal he remembers the paper using the word but his memory could be mistaken,’” the complaint states. “Upon information and belief, Bangstad did no independent research to determine whether Walker and Lakeland Times had ever referred to Westfahl as ‘retarded.’”
In addition, the attorneys wrote, in a Jan. 14, 2022, Facebook post, Bangstad admitted that he made a “mistake” in attributing use of the word “retarded” to Walker and Lakeland Times, and wrote: “I officially recant the statement I made [on March 27, 2021], and apologize to the Lakeland Times, Gregg Walker, and Richard Moore for my lapse in memory.”

The legalities of the complaint
In the lawsuits, Walker is suing for libel/defamation, and the lawsuit asserts that Bangstad’s posts that refer to Walker as a “crook,” as a “misogynist,” and as a “misogynistic bully,” constitute a publication, as does Bangstad’s Facebook post in which he claimed that Walker and Lakeland Times referred to Krystal Westfahl as “retarded.”
In addition, the attorneys wrote, the Aug. 8, 2022 post, in which Bangstad published statements indicating that Walker witnessed his brother’s death and refused to aid or assist him to inherit The Lakeland Times and also indicating that he took advantage of his ailing and incapacitated father to the detriment of his stepmother for financial gain, contains demonstrably false allegations as Walker has no criminal history.  
“Defendants have cited no basis to support their assertion that Walker is a ‘misogynist,’ and indeed have continued to disparage Plaintiffs with this term,” the complaint states. “In addition, none of the plaintiffs have published any material referring to Krystal Westfahl as ‘retarded.’”
Likewise, the attorneys assert, Bangstad’s statements that Walker witnessed and did nothing while his brother died, and therefore, is a “crook,” is patently false, as Walker was not present to witness his brother’s death.
The lawsuit contends that Bangstad’s attempt to disparage Walker was done intentionally and with an intent to harm Walker’s reputation within the community.
“Defendants encouraged other people to stop subscribing to Lakeland Times,” the complaint states. “In the comments section of the Minocqua Brewing Facebook page, Bangstad has stated, ‘this is how you beat a bully who owns a paper, you ridicule him until people stop subscribing to the paper.’”  
And, in the Aug. 8, 2022 post, after defaming and disparaging Walker, Bangstad ended with “[i]t’s time to quit the Lakeland Times,” encouraging people to stop reading the paper, the attorneys wrote.
“Defendants’ statements were made with express malice and stemmed from ill will, bad intent, and malevolence towards plaintiffs,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ statements were made with actual malice in that defendants either knew such statements were false, or defendants acted with reckless disregard as to whether such statements were true or false. By spreading false, defamatory, libelous, and malicious information, defendants have harmed plaintiffs and their professional and business reputations.”
The defendants have refused to correct or retract the statements, the attorneys wrote.
Richard Moore is the author of “Dark State” and can be reached at