S.B. County sheriff's wife, publisher again to face off in court; new trial ordered in libel suit

The Press-Enterprise

SAN BERNARDINO - Beginning in 1999, a High Desert newspaper chain published stories in which anonymous sources alleged that the owner of a grief and crisis counseling firm contracting with San Bernardino County had leaked confidential client information to Sheriff Gary Penrod, then the owner's boyfriend.

Nancy Bohl, who married Penrod in 2000, filed a libel suit against Valley Wide Newspaper owner Raymond Pryke the same year.

In 2004, before the case got to trial, a judge ruled that the articles were libelous and awarded Bohl $3 million. Pryke appealed, and a higher court overturned the decision in 2007, sending the case back to San Bernardino County Superior Court.
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Bohl asserts that the newspaper articles damaged her health, reputation and income. A declaration from a Counseling Team International business manager states that the articles cost the company more than $1.1 million in contracts.

The company, based in San Bernardino, began contracting with the Sheriff's Department in 1984, a decade before Penrod was first elected.

The couple's relationship began in 1996.

"Without the trust of my client, I cannot be effective," Bohl said in a statement in the court records. "I have never breached the confidentiality of counseling sessions for the entire time I have been a psychotherapist."

Bohl also has steadfastly denied any conflict of interest. In a brief telephone interview, she declined to discuss the upcoming trial.

"It's all lies," Bohl said of the allegations against her. "I just want it to be over with."

The trial is tentatively scheduled to start May 27, when Bohl is ordered to appear and to bring proof of her government contracts and medical damages.

A March court filing identifies the anonymous sources -- two retired Sheriff's Department employees with four decades of experience between them -- quoted in three articles published in 1999 and 2000 accusing Bohl of leaking information to Penrod.

The records identify the sources as James Lingrin, a former detective now living in Yamhill, Ore., a Portland, suburb, and former Deputy Ken Holtz, of Phelan.

"Lingrin will testify that Dr. Bohl had a bad reputation within the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department," court documents state. "Dr. Bohl was a pipeline to management and no one would have an expectation of privacy."

Stands Behind Comments

Lingrin said in a telephone interview last week that he stands behind his comments. Everything he told Valley Wide reporter Mark Gutglueck was true, he said.

"We held her in contempt," he said by phone. "Unless you were a toady or company man, you would never use her services."

Records indicate that Holtz will testify about refusing to use Bohl's counselors after he was involved in a 1994 shooting. He could not be reached for comment.

"Holtz will testify at trial that he would not trust Bohl if his life depended on it," according to a March court filing previewing the trial. "Good street cops were not going to take a chance in going forward and talking about something that bothered them."

Lingrin's and Holtz's names appear in court records in 2006, five years after a judge ordered Gutglueck to produce his sources.

Pryke said his attorney, Stanley Hodge, got Gutglueck to identify his sources during a stormy meeting. Pryke said he watched the confrontation, adding that he did not want to know the sources' names. He said he could not recall when that meeting occurred.

Gutglueck declined to discuss how his sources' names found their way into public documents.

"I stand by all my stories," Gutglueck said. "I do not disclose my sources."

Gag Order Sought

Court records show that Bohl's attorney, John Rowell, is seeking a gag order to keep both sides from discussing the case in the media.

Pryke said that the stories are true and that he will defend them in court. He said he would refuse to sign a gag order.

"That's the whole point of going to court. This is a First Amendment case," he said.

"All facts published were matters of public record and were matters of public interest," Pryke said in court records. "(The articles) were reporting upon the consequences of the conflicts of interests."

Pryke rejected a 2002 settlement offer that would have required him to have dinner with Bohl and Penrod, pay them $25,000, print a retraction and sell his newspapers, he said.

Pryke said he got a new lawyer instead.

In 2004, Superior Court Judge Christopher Warner, asked to make a ruling before the case reached trial, decided that Pryke was responsible for libelous and malicious stories. He slapped Pryke with a $3 million judgment after Pryke refused to divulge his reporter's sources.

"The articles impugn the character, integrity and reputation of Bohl and her corporation," Warner wrote.

Bankruptcy Filing

Pryke filed for bankruptcy to protect what Warner said was nearly $14 million in assets.

Pryke, 84, owns six weekly newspapers in Hesperia, Apple Valley, Adelanto, Victorville, Palmdale and Lancaster with a combined circulation of 20,000.

"Everyone thinks I am going to settle," he said. "I come from the home of the Magna Carta."

A native of Essex County, England, Pryke takes pride in the 1215 pact that forced a king, for the first time, to cede power to the people.

After moving to Southern California, Pryke became a U.S. citizen in 1954. In 1970, he served as foreman for the San Bernardino County grand jury that investigates government. He said the experience made him an anti-corruption crusader.

"The only way I could fight is getting a newspaper," he said.

Pryke appealed Warner's judgment, which was thrown out in 2007 by the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside.

A three-judge panel ruled that Pryke was protected by the California reporter's shield law and that Warner's ruling went too far. The case returned to San Bernardino County Superior Court.

Penrod was unavailable for comment last week, sheriff's officials said. San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said Penrod does not supervise or influence Counseling Team International in any way.

Reach John F. Berry at 909-806-3058 or jberry@PE.com

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