After a full day of negotiations in Brattleboro, the religious sect Exclusive Brethren agreed yesterday to drop its federal lawsuit against Tim and Sallie Twinam (pictured), the Williston couple who run a website that exposes and criticizes the religious sect and reconnects former followers.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Twinam's website Peebs.net is still up. The Brethren sued the webmaster of a similar site several years ago, and reached a settlement that paid him $10,000 in exchange for shutting down the site.
The lawsuit claimed it was trying to stop Twinam from publishing copyrighted Brethren texts on his website. Twinam maintains he never possessed those documents, and called the lawsuit an attempt by the Brethren to silence a critic by bleeding him dry.
The Twinams were featured in the Seven Days cover story "Might v. Site" (November 4), detailing Twinam's restrictive upbringing in the fundamentalist Christian sect and the ways he's reconnecting family members torn apart by the Brethren's "doctrine of separation."
Reached by phone, Twinam couldn't discuss the settlement terms but said a joint statement from both parties may be forthcoming. Asked why he chose to settle instead of fighting the case to judgment, Twinam said the costs would have become "astronomical."
"Let's say there was judgment in our favor," he said. "They would have appealed. The costs of continuing the case — some estimates were for another two to three years — would have been immense."
The Brethren's lawyer, Matthew Kirtland of the international law firm Fulbright & Jaworski, declined to comment on the settlement when reached at his Washington, D.C., office this morning.
The Twinams fought the lawsuit using Vermont's new anti-SLAPP statute, a free-speech law intended to protect citizens from frivolous legal actions that are meant to silence critics by drawing them into costly court battles. SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation."
The Twinams' case was the first application of Vermont's anti-SLAPP statute, legal observers say, and would have served as a test case for the law.
Photo by Andy Duback.