Trailer Estates in Bradenton aims to shut down resident's website

ejohnson@bradenton.comSeptember 5, 2012 

MANATEE -- Trailer Estates Park and Recreation District has sent a property owner a cease and desist letter regarding a website used to provide information to residents of the mobile home community on Sarasota Bay.

The letter, authored by Fred Moore of Blalock and Walters to Daniel Smith, is dated Aug. 16.

In response, Smith said he is willing to turn the site over to the district -- if it pays him $40,000.

In the letter, Smith, who has owned a Trailer Estate property for 13 years, is told to transfer ownership of his www.trailerestates.org website to the district.

Using his personal resources, Smith said, he created the website three years ago "to provide information to the residents of Trailer Estates about activities, events and conditions in their area."

The website lists public documents related to Trailer Estates, weather conditions and other news about the area.

The letter also demands Smith quit using "Trailer Estates" in any domain name as well as "other items that could confuse the public into believing that your website is an any way affiliated with Trailer Estates," such as logos.

Smith said the district, which is a public governmental entity, had no official website three years ago, so he created one at the request of fellow residents. The district recently launched its own site using the address of www.trailerestatesfl.com.

"I put it together with the idea to turn it over to the board," Smith said, adding that he offered to train people to operate it.

He said the board showed no interest in the website until recently when it became a point of discussion at meetings. Smith said the website does not criticize or editorialize in its content.

The developing interest may be due to the website publishing court documents from a recent civil suit filed by two residents and won by the district regarding open meeting laws, he said. Smith's wife was one of the co-plaintiffs on the case, but he said he was not involved with the suit.

"My feeling is they don't like the fact they can't control it, even though it's nothing critical," Smith said, adding that there are several ongoing issues at Trailer Estates.

Smith, who resides in Michigan during the summer, sent a letter of response dated Aug. 31.

Smith denies using the domain and website in "bad faith with the sole purpose of being to harass the officers, directors and agents of Trailer Estates," as alleged in the cease and desist letter.

Smith states he should not be prohibited from using a legally owned domain name containing the generic words of "trailer" and "estates."

Smith concludes that he "should not be coerced into giving over private, legally owned personal property through the intimidation and threat of legal action."

No direct contact was made to Smith regarding concerns about his website prior to the cease and desist letter, Smith said.

"The thing that really surprised me, and the thing that makes me the most angry is they're not only asking me to stop publishing it, they're asking me to turn over the rights to them and they're doing it with the threat of a lawsuit," he said.

Smith said he refuses to be bullied into forfeiting his right to free speech.

"If they follow up with a lawsuit, I'm skilled enough to make the initial answer on my own," said Smith, who did ample research before drafting his six-page response to the cease and desist letter. "It's going to very quickly get more expensive than I can handle. I will fight it as long as I can afford it."

Smith plans to seek help from First Amendment organizations and the ACLU as he awaits the district's next step.

After reading his response and getting his side of the story, Smith believes the attorneys may realize charges against him are unfounded.

Moore said that decision will be left to the board. Chairwoman Gail Opper deferred comment to attorneys.

Moore said Smith "has got every right to publish and discuss what's going on there," but the similarity between the two websites creates confusion, which is the board's overall concern.

Moore would not say why the issue is being brought up three years after Smith's website was launched.

Smith makes assertions of his own in his response, stating the district is trying to defame him with accusations that he stole the website he bought, created, and later offered to the district free of charge.

As a proposed solution, Smith said for a one-time sum of $40,000 he would transfer all rights and information associated with the website to the district.

The offer stands until Sept. 15.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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