Sheldon Haseltine was found guilty of defamation by San José judges Wednesday. He was ordered to pay plaintiff Armando González the maximum penalty allowed for such a charge, approximately 15 million colons or $30,000.
This verdict comes from the YouTube video in which Haseltine details circumstances and talks about the men who are asserting a claim against land held by him and his co-investors. Judges at the Tribunal de Justicia who voted unanimously against the defense said they will present a written decision next week to Haseltine and his lawyer, Horacio Mejias Portuguez.
Wednesday’s trial was supposed to feature testimony from Otto Giovanni Ceciliano Mora, who was a subject of Haseltine’s commentary in the video. However, Ceciliano never arrived. As González’s former lawyer, he has been heavily involved with this legal battle over the land.
Though the video has been taken down by its host, a journalist and documenter, the court played a version that Ceciliano created with a translated Spanish voiceover.
The translated content seemed to have remained true to the original English wording. The prosecution mostly took offense to Haseltine describing González as being “above the law.”
Before the decision was handed out González thanked the judges for allowing him the opportunity to clear his name and bring his innocence to the public light. He said that a foreigner must still abide to the laws of Costa Rica if they want to live here.
Marielena Gamboa, part of Haseltine’s defense team and his first lawyer, delivered a powerful defense explaining that a man has freedom to his words, no matter if he is a foreigner or a native. She added that trying to censor outlets of expression on the Internet can begin a dangerous precedent.
This drawn-out, back-and-forth exchange of legal arguments began when Haseltine discovered González was involved with the initial squatter on the land investment in Herradura. Since then, the case has received international attention from journalists and prospective property buyers. In his closing speech, he addressed this dispute as a symptom that hints to larger real estate maladies affecting the country. “There are many foreigners who have suffered as we have suffered.”
Haseltine has said he never wanted to develop the land located behind Los Sueños Resort for commercial use, but instead he wanted to build small homes that could occupy the beachside hill. He last visited Herradura Beach a few weeks ago and said there are no squatters left on the property but it does have pole markings in place for potential development.
An appeal is likely.
For much of the video Haseltine presented to viewers information that had been published in the Spanish Language La Nación.
When he received the original complaint months ago, he shared it with a reporter, and it was clear that the case suffered from problems with English. For example, the complaint said that he had made an accusation of fraud because he spoke the word ripoff.
Native English speakers know that the words do not mean the same thing and that a ripoff may be an unfair transaction but does not have to be illegal.