Aaron Ochs is the author of “Defamers: How Fake News Terrorized a Community & Those Who Dared to Fight It,” a nonfiction uncovering the defamatory, deceptive and criminal practices of online tabloid CalCoastNews. Click here to subscribe to his Patreon, check out exclusive news features and more.
In early January, out of nowhere, I got a call from a phone number that I vaguely recognized. Caller ID was unknown. I picked up my phone and answered. I could hear a conversation between two women, both their voices I recognize, but they sounded far away. Figured I must’ve been the recipient of a good ol’ fashioned pocket dial. I typed in the phone number on Google. The number belonged to freelance court reporter and former Grover Beach mayoral candidate Elizabeth Doukas. I heard about every third word except for one sentence: “Aaron [Ochs] isn’t going to be around anymore. Don’t worry.” Now I believe the call was intentional.
Doukas is one of the many cast of characters featured in Defamers. She was the court reporter hired by CalCoastNews to record depositions. In 2017, the website subpoenaed me to be deposed as a potential witness for their libel trial, which they ended up losing. Doukas was the presiding court reporter in my deposition. After CalCoastNews exaggerated and outright lied about a deposition I provided in good faith, I ordered a copy of my transcript from Doukas with the intent to release it for public consumption. Doukas never followed through with processing my order, effectively stonewalling its release.
In their Professional Code of Ethics, the National Court Reporters Association says a member shall “be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.” But on Facebook, Doukas — an ardent supporter of CalCoastNews — shared CalCoastNews’ misleading article about my deposition. The Professional Code of Ethics also states a member shall “be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Doukas is featured in an upcoming documentary by CalCoastNews that’s based entirely on a conspiracy theory peddled by the website that there was an elaborate “plot to bury [them].” It appears Doukas is more than a mere fan of the website.
The NCRA also states a member shall “guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.” On July 3, Doukas wrote on Facebook that I was a “paid hacker promelgating [sic] the agendas of the Bad Boys of SLO County.” After personally informing her that she published a false statement, she insisted she was referring to “the hacking [I] do at members of our community in your writings and in your book.” Doukas never pointed to a single statement that described “hacking [at] members in the community.”
With all the facts considered, I decided to file a formal complaint with the Court Reporters Board of California. A representative described Doukas’ conduct as “beyond contempt.”
Doukas would be the first and only person from CalCoastNews’ camp to publicly respond to Defamers albeit as a passing reference. But the fact she made some veiled threat about me nearly one year after I published the book, it’s clear I’m still living rent-free in their heads. And it’s hardly surprising.
For starters, Defamers has been flying off bookshelves throughout San Luis Obispo County and on Amazon.com. I would know this because I continue to receive emails and phone calls from readers who keep asking if I’m okay — and yes, I’m fine. Some of these readers have shared surprisingly similar anecdotes about their experiences with CalCoastNews. Despite the book’s surprising success, there wasn’t a single mention of Defamers in any local news outlet. Why? As one local reporter told me, “Karen [Velie from CalCoastNews] will go after us.” Defamers is a local bestseller that people are pretending they didn’t read for perfectly understandable reasons. They read what happened to me and they don’t want any part of it.
Plus, I reported exclusively on The ROCK that Velie formed Cal Coast Press, a shell company, to facilitate payments from political candidates in exchange for coverage favorable to them. This reporting was published days before the District 5 Supervisors candidates forum, with incumbent Debbie Arnold making allegations exclusively found on CalCoastNews about challenger Ellen Beraud and campaign contributions from the cannabis industry. And Velie, who endorsed Arnold under one of her many confirmed pseudonyms, mused ironically on Facebook about the cannabis industry “buying” Beraud. But Cal Coast Press does not appear on any financial disclosure statements from Arnold’s campaign — at least not yet.
Since I published my book, Velie attempted to communicate with me using a fake Facebook account. Then she hopped on a few other fake names on CalCoastNews to levy allegations she’s personally and exclusively made under her own name. In August of last year, I submitted a formal criminal referral against Velie to the SLO County District Attorney for stalking. The DA’s office recommended that I file a restraining order, which I plan on doing if she tries harassing me again. Fortunately, since I filed the complaint, I have not heard from her.
Violating standards of professional conduct, peddling conspiracy theories, outright fabrications, and spreading propaganda to influence our elections: this is standard operating procedure for CalCoastNews. They may lose a defamation lawsuit, all their appeals and be ordered to pay $1.1 million in damages, but they won’t change. For as long as they continue to do what they do, Defamers will remain relevant and immovable. And I’m not going anywhere.