The Union publisher/editor sues local family in tragic incident

Jeff Ackerman, the publisher/editor of The Union, has filed a civil lawsuit against Jim Knight of Lake Wildwood, alleging “bodily injury and emotional distress” involving an incident that occurred at the newspaper on Oct. 20, according to public documents on file in Nevada County Superior Court.

Ackerman is seeking $1 million in punitive damages, including $250,000 for “pain, suffering and inconvenience” $250,000 for “emotional distress” and $3,200 for “medical expenses,” according to the documents.

The $1 million claim “adds insult to injury,” said Brad Thomas, Knight’s lawyer, who claims “willful and wanton conduct on (Ackerman’s) own part proximately caused and contributed to the happening of the incident in question.”

Thomas said he was referring to a column Ackerman wrote on Oct. 20 about the death of Knight’s daughter. “It’s tough to keep a 17-year-old’s death by heroin overdose a secret, try as some might to put a pretty picture on it,” the column said in part. Knight is the golf pro at Lake Wildwood.

Knight’s response also claims “(Ackerman) initially attacked (Knight) and if, in fact, defendant committed any assault on plaintiff, said action was performed to protect the person and property of the defandant and was performed in self defense.”

The actual amount of damages in the case will be “according to proof,” however, said Craig Diamond, Ackerman’s lawyer.

The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 20, and Knight’s wife later was served with the complaint at their home after two previous attempts failed, according to court documents. Knight responded to the allegations on Jan. 22.

No one in the local media — The Union, KNCO, KVMR, the Nevada City Advocate or Yubanet — has reported on the case, though it is a matter of public record and civil legal cases are routinely reported in the media.

“I have no idea,” Diamond answered as to why the case had not been covered in the media. “I’m not the decider.”

Some friends of Knight family members have attempted to contact the local media, including KNCO, KVMR and Yubanet, to tell their story — but without any success, according to a Facebook page they created. (The details are on the posts).

Thomas said Knight was fully aware that the case was a matter of public record and that he might be identified.

A case management conference for the case (75539) is set for April 5 at the county courthouse.

Ackerman’s column was titled “Heroin menace lurks within our midst.”

It began: “A 17-year-old Penn Valley girl died of a heroin overdose one recent Sunday morning, and four days later Grass Valley police raided a home on Doris Drive, where they arrested 10 people for selling, using or trying to buy heroin.

“I connect the two because I think there’s a connection.

“This is a small town and you hear things. It’s tough to keep a 17-year-old’s death by heroin overdose a secret, try as some might to put a pretty picture on it.”

On The Union’s website some readers complained it was insensitive and unnecessary to include the information. Others alleged it was incorrect or inconclusive.

“How could you do this to a family that is obviously in pain?” one reader wrote on The Union’s site.

According to a Grass Valley police report on Oct. 20, there were “multiple reports advising of an employee who was just assaulted by a male subject wearing a red sweatshirt” at The Union’s offices.

“Contact was made at The Union who declined (a citizen’s arrest). Knight was admonished not to return or face trespassing,” according to the blotter item.

The Union reported the police blotter item but no more details.

“Defendant Jim Knight, intentionally and without justifiable cause struck plaintiff Jeffrey Ackerman, causing him to fall to the ground,” according to the complaint. “As a result of the conduct of the defendant, the plaintiff suffered bodily injury and emotional distress.”

Knight’s complaint said, “by reason of the doctrine of comparative negligence, plaintiff is barred from recovery, in whole and/or in part, of such portion of said damages, if any, as proximately resulted from the aforementioned conduct.”

The county district attorney has not pressed any charges over the incident.

UPDATE: I posted the legal documents here based on reader requests. This story is based on publicly available court documents, as well as interviews with the attorneys from both sides. Anybody can get copies of such documents at the county courthouse or (in the case of the police blotter item) at the Grass Valley police department. This is not “investigative journalism” — it is routine police/court reporting.