By Tracy Dingmann
A Las Cruces judge today reduced the punitive damages in the defamation suit against Helena organizer Arturo Uribe from $75,000 to $10,000.
Helena Chemical, which originally won a jury judgment of $75,000 in April, now has seven days to decide whether to accept the judgment or ask for a new trial.
“I feel that as we go on, what’s happening in the case speaks for itself,” Uribe said in a telephone interview today. Helena had originally sought $300,000 in punitive damages and $300,000 in actual damages against Uribe.
Helena had sued Uribe, of Mesquite, N.M. after the father and community organizer raised questions in the media and at community forums about whether operations at the Tennessee-based fertilizer company were to blame for health-related problems in the community. A number of people, including Uribe’s children, had come down with serious respiratory problems that Uribe and others suspected were caused by the plant that sits across the street from the Uribe family home.
“I welcome a new trial ,” Uribe said Tuesday. “Look what’s happened already – they went from a $600,000 suit against my wife and my attorney to having my wife and attorney dropped and most of the case dismissed. And now the judge reduced the punitive damage from $75,000 to $10,000.”
Uribe said he would like to see the case put to rest for good, for his sake and for the sake of his community.
“Do we pay $10,000 and have me and other people in the community have to keep wondering –“What can I say now, without getting sued?”
Uribe says that if Helena does not ask for a new trial, he will appeal the $10,000 judgment.