Korbel sues Samii in latest twist of saga

  • Friday 24 July 2009

Korbel winery in Sonoma is suing Richie Ann Samii, daughter of Korbel's president Gary Heck, for defamation.

Papers filed by Korbel in Sonoma County Superior Court allege Samii anonymously criticised Korbel, one of America’s leading producers of sparkling wines, on the US-based website Craigslist.

Heck and Samii have been embroiled in a legal fight over her stake in Korbel and over her termination as manager of a Korbel property.

Samii argues that Korbel is denying her income from her 5% share in the family business, which posted US$165m in sales in 2008. ‘I just want what my grandmother left me,’ she said.

The actual 5% share is not in dispute, a spokesman said, but the way the dividends are paid.

In 2006 Samii's employment as a manager at the company's Guerneville winery was terminated after she and her then fiance, Christopher Samii, were accused of sexually assaulting two female Korbel employees.

No charges were filed but Samii was asked to vacate the property, leading her to file a lawsuit claiming to own it. The court ruled against Samii, and she vacated the property in July 2008.

After Samii's termination, posts on a 2008 Craigslist forum accused Korbel of seeking retribution from employees reporting sexual harassment, and of plans to log ancient redwoods located on its property.

Other Craigslist comments accused Heck of bribing judges, statements which Korbel spokesman Terry Fahn told decanter.com were false.

Samii, 40, admitted the comments came from her internet account but said, ‘There are many people who have access, via wireless, to our connection.’

Korbel’s defamation suit has prompted criticism from advocates of free speech on the internet, saying it could discourage people from posting anonymous comments online.

Fahn told decanter.com that Korbel respects free speech rights, but in this instance statements repeatedly made on Craigslist were false, defamatory and potentially damaging, hence the company felt compelled to take action.

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