The leader of a conservative Jefferson County parents group is suing her local newspaper, and she’s hired former Secretary of State Scott Gessler to represent her.

Lindsay Datko founded Jeffco Kids First (JKF) during the pandemic, largely in opposition to the county and school district public health regulations. When classrooms reopened, however, the group began focusing on various elements of what it perceived to be the “woke” culture of the Jefferson County School District, most of which were LGBT-related.

Datko post to Jeffco Kids First Facebook group, April 14, 2023

The Facebook group, which has over 6,500 members, consists largely of posts by members angrily sharing examples of LGBT-inclusive curriculum or policy choices. Datko herself makes repeated references to “groomers,” claiming child sex predators not only are present in Jeffco schools but that they are supported by district policies.

Arvada Press reporter Rylee Dunn reported on Datko’s use of JKF to crowdsource evidence of student ‘furries,’ or students who like to wear animal-related clothing or costume items to school. In doing so, Datko was promoting debunked right-wing misinformation and insisting it was widespread in Colorado.

Datko now claims Dunn’s article is libelous. She, represented by Gessler, is suing the paper’s publisher, Colorado Community Media. Just a few weeks prior to Dunn’s story, the Colorado Times Recorder’s Heidi Beedle reported on Republican Heidi Ganahl, who at the time was the GOP’s challenger to Gov. Jared Polis, sharing the same debunked “furries in Colorado classrooms” myth on conservative talk radio. Ganahl, as Dunn reported in her story, is a JKF member.

On May 4 Datko posted an update on her lawsuit to the group:

“In October 2022 an article was written on Jeffco Kids First and me that turned my world upside down and threatened my lifelong work to protect the innocence and well-being of children as a mom, teacher, Jeffco Kids First founder, and community member,” wrote Datko. “It was published in about 23 Colorado Community Media publications across the state- front page of the Arvada Press where I was born and raised. You have stayed with me all this time and offered your support, prayers and financial backing. I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss. However, the judge agreed with us on our central claim of libel per se (the statement made about secretly recording children in schools). Regarding the defendant’s motion to dismiss, we did not get all we wanted but we got what we needed. We have a good pathway forward and we will hold Colorado Community Media and Arvada Press reporter Rylee Dunn to account. I will continue to update you under the direction of my incredible legal team working to make Jeffco Kids First and me whole again (former Secretary of State Scott Gessler who was head legal counsel for the recent 9-0 Supreme Court Colorado ballot issue).”

Reached for comment, Colorado Community Media publisher Linda Shapley offered this statement from CCM’s lawyer, prominent First Amendment specialist Steven Zansberg:

“The judge has allowed only three of the four pleaded claims to go forward based only on his review of the pleaded allegations, taken as true. Plaintiffs must now file an amended complaint, and the judge will then take up our anti-SLAPP motion, which should bring this case to a close.”

News outlets have well-established First Amendment rights, especially in Colorado, which enacted an “anti-SLAPP law” in 2019 that allows defendants to file a special motion to dismiss when the claim stems from free speech in connection with a public issue.

Gessler is familiar with Colorado’s anti-SLAPP law. His firm unsuccessfully attempted to use it while defending former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani in another defamation suit, brought by former Dominion Voting Systems employee Eric Coomer. Gessler, who has represented other far-right conspiracists including former President Trump and Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, is on record as billing well over $400 per hour.

JKF is currently promoting its upcoming annual gala, which, just as it did last year, features an ex-athlete turned anti-trans activist as its headliner.

The flyer for the event lists five projects on which JKF will spend its donors’ tax-deductible contributions. First among them is to “fund ongoing legal action and advice.”

Datko did not respond to an email request for comment on several questions, including whether the “legal action and advice” is for her lawsuit against CCM.