Over the years, a number of people have been threatened and accused by former magazine publisher James "Captain Zoom" Campbell. The experience is common enough that it has become to be called "being Zoomed."
While long-time targets of Campbell are fairly blasé about the experience, it can be a bit stressful to those experiencing it for the first time. This site is intended to answer questions the newly-"zoomed" might have.
This document is divided into the following sections:
1. Can Campbell sue me?
2. WILL Campbell sue me?
3. What happens if he calls the police?
4. Am I physically in danger?
5. What other actions might he take?
6. What can I do to fight back?
7. Some DOs and DON'Ts
For the best insight into the Campbell controversy, see John Ousterhout's Zoomland web page.
Only way to be sure would be to consult a lawyer. Many provide free half-hour consultations, and you can probably get a pretty good establishment of your vulnerability to a lawsuit.
Until you see an attorney, though, let me provide a little reassurance now. Keep in mind that I am *not* a lawyer.
Campbell's use of legal terms seems to exceed his actual understanding of the laws involved. For instance, the most-common Campbell accusation seems to be of defamation ("Libel" or "Slander"...Libel is based on written statements, Slander is verbal).
In both cases, there is one overriding defense: the truth. If what you said about Campbell is true, it is not defamation. Saying "Campbell had his medical certificate suspended for psychiatric reasons in the early 1980s" is not defamation, as it is provably true. The judge's findings in the case (SE-4661) were still available from the NTSB as of several years back. You can find a scan of a certified copy on the Zoomland web page.
Telling someone your experiences with Campbell is not defamation, as long as you keep to the truth. Unless you have actually spread made-up stories about Campbell, you probably don't have to worry about a lawsuit. Defamation law provides significant leeway for free speech, as well...for the most part, you can express your opinion as long as it is clearly labeled as opinion.
Campbell sometimes mixes lies with his accusations. He once told me, for instance, that SE-4661 was a forgery…and thus discussion of it with anyone would be defamation. It wasn't a forgery, of course, but it does illustrate how Campbell tries to bluff his way into making his targets think they are legally vulnerable when, in fact, they are not.
Don't be fooled, either, when he tells you his *lawyers* say he can sue you. If they think their client has been defamed, you'd get a letter from them. They wouldn't give Jim messages to pass on. One has lawyers to *deal* with persons with whom you have disputes…not to tell you what to say to them. Don't be taken in, either by one of his other common lines, that he has a "signed affidavit" or "people ready to swear" that you have committed some infraction.
Campbell occasionally threatens to sue people for other than defamation, as well. For instance, disputes have arisen when Campbell bills companies for advertising that they claim was never authorized, or when Campbell continues to run advertising (and bill for it) after a company has requested that it stop.
If you had a legitimate business arrangement with Campbell, honor it. If your contract spells out the actions necessary to terminate the advertising or other arrangement, follow them to the letter…in writing, by certified mail, just to be on the safe side. If you are promised some sort of action or relief in the future (such as receiving free advertising for purchasing a certain number of months' ads), ensure that it is reflected in your *written* contract.
In summary, no matter what he accuses you of, don't get flustered if Campbell threatens to sue you. It's a basic intimidation tactic he uses quite often. Don't believe his interpretation of the law, consult with an attorney if you're worried.
But *can* Campbell sue you? Of course. In the United States, anybody can sue anybody for just about anything, whether or not they'll win. It's irritating, for sure. Let's turn our attention, then, to a more pertinent subject:
The short answer: It's a very, very, low probability.
He filed two lawsuits claiming defamation in the '90s, but hasn't filed another since 1998. That was an unusual one. He, himself, had been sued for fraud, libel, and breech of contract by a Florida lawyer (the late Tony Pucillo). Campbell had to hire an attorney to defend himself, and, as is common in legal disputes, filed a countersuit against Pucillo. The basis for his countersuit was "conspiracy to defame"…and to have a "conspiracy," it is necessary for there to be "conspirators." Hence, fourteen other men (including myself) were named as co-counterdefendants.
This is the famous "RAH-15" case. Campbell's legal action was badly flawed, both from the standpoint of Florida law and in the execution. Almost half the co-defendants weren't even served their papers, and most of the rest were dismissed because the suit was not properly served. Campbell's attorney didn't oppose the motions to dismiss, nor did he try to have them served properly in the six month extension he was granted.
As a countersuit in an existing case, the RAH-15 lawsuit didn't
cost Campbell a cent extra. And the issue of money is very
important, when trying to determine whether Campbell is going to
sue you. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to sue
someone for defamation. Lawyers will be reluctant to take a
case on a contingency basis if there is not a potential for a
profitable payoff. Only about 40% of defamation cases result
in a plaintiff's victory. And most people don't have the
assets to let the attorney profit on a victory. Sun-N-Fun,
of course, would be an exception. The second libel/slander
case was his second lawsuit against Sun-N-Fun and its
security contractor, in July 2003. This case was dismissed
in 2007 after Campbell's attorney petitioned the judge to release
him from the case. Campbell was given sixty days to find
another attorney, and failed to do so.
While Campbell took a "free hit" at the RAH-15 by adding them as
co-counterfendants in his countersuit against Tony Pucillo, I am
not aware of him ever actually initiating any defamation suit
against any individual*. Nor do I know of any lawsuits for
"harassment" or "stalking" or any of the other things he accuses
(* He did request an injunction in 1994 to try get two
individuals to stop distributing materials such as the transcript
from the NTSB case and various newspaper and magazine articles
about him. The case was eventually dismissed when Campbell
lost his second lawyer and didn't replace him.)
However, he does sue people. In the past twenty-five years, he has sued over two dozen individuals, companies, and corporations. The list of of defendants include two of his managing editors for his magazine, two of his associate editors, his marketing manager, seven former advertisers, a bunch of other companies, the polyglot group composing the RAH-15, and one non-profit organization (Sun-N-Fun...twice!). The total known lawsuits with himself or one of his companies as plaintiff is at least fifteen (counting his countersuit against the RAH-15).
His record? Out of those fifteen separate cases (that I
know about), he received one default judgement (from a company
that was no longer in business), and four ended in out-of-court
settlements. The defendants came out on top in the remaining
ten. Only two cases ever lasted long enough to reach a
judge's verdict...and in both cases, it was against
Finally, as far as I know, Campbell hasn't sued anyone for ten years. There have been just two more lawsuits since 2005, and in both cases, Campbell was the defendant. The last suit (Cirrus v. Kindred Spirit Aviation and James R. Campbell) took almost two years. Campbell went through three law firms, and it's likely this was extremely expensive. One might expect he'd be a bit shy about going to court again...
Will Campbell sue you? The biggest thing in your favor is that you’re probably far down the list of people he wants to sue. At worst, you might get caught up in another RAH-15 situation…but with a dozen or more people sharing the legal bills, that's not too much trouble. Ask any of the RAH-15 co-defendants…it was really a lot of fun. Other than the RAH-15 case, he's never sued an individual for defamation.
The rest of the people sued by Campbell have had either a business relationship with him (as an advertiser or an employee) or was personally associated, as in the Hitlaw case. For example, Campbell sued two kit companies in April of 2002, claiming that they'd ordered advertising on his web page but hadn't paid for it. The judge's summary of one the two cases illustrates what happened: "Defendant acknowledges having discussed advertising with the plaintiff, but denies any final agreement was reached. Rather, Defendant contends that Plaintiff took it upon itself to prepare and run the advertising without first receiving Defendant's approval." ("AERO-NEWS NETWORK INC vs. PULSAR AIRCRAFT CORP", Polk County Florida, 2002SC-000241-0000-WH). The other case was settled out of court after extensive legal maneuvering. The agreement states that the settlement is "... the compromise of a doubtful and disputed claim and the payment is not to be construed as an admission of liability... said RELEASES deny liability and intend merely to avoid further litigation...." The amount the company paid was solely the disputed advertising charge, about $6300...Campbell did *not* recover his legal expenses from them.
So if you don't have a business relationship with him, you're not
in too much danger. If he's accusing you of defamation,
you’re just one of scores, if not hundreds, of people he has
threatened to sue over the last three decades. The chance of
a suit is very low, the chance he'll pick YOU to go after is even
Keep in mind that Campbell will insist that things are ABOUT to
happen…that he's about to file a suit against you, that some
unnamed person has "given him a signed affidavit" against you, or
you're about to hear from his lawyer, or he'll say, "I'll see you
in court." But, again, it's nothing but intimidation.
Consult an attorney if you're worried; he or she might recommend
some precautionary steps, but more than likely, you'll just be
told to wait until something concrete happens.
And sometimes he does.
Why? Probably because it costs him nothing but the price of the phone call. If he can get you charged with a crime, the State will prosecute you for free.
But there are three big things in your favor. The first is
that you're probably innocent of any crime. Like civil-law
concepts like defamation, Campbell twists criminal law to try to
intimidate people. It may sound scary, but there's usually
nothing to it.
Second, the police are neutral. They are required check out any complaint, but they aren't going to start hounding you like a fleeing felon. Any police officer you speak to will undoubtedly be polite and professional, and quite willing to listen to your side of the story before deciding whether to investigate more deeply.
Third…the police are quite accustomed to people making false accusations to try to get others in trouble. Campbell sometimes winds up into making outrageous accusations. For instance, back in the '90s, he told police in Idaho that Charlie Porter might be a "devil-worshipper." What the Idaho cops thought of this is not a matter of public record. One can imagine, though. In any case, no charges..secular nor religious... were filed against Porter.
The police are required to investigate, but if they think Campbell is a nutcase, they'll do the minimum they have to close out the file and get him off their neck.
Now, what should you do if the cops call you?
An attorney, of course, will tell you to refuse to say anything until you get legal counsel. But as the experiences of Porter and Rich Ahrens have shown, speaking frankly to the officer and explaining the situation can defuse any further action. The investigator may well be skeptical of Campbell's accusations, anyway. Hearing your side of the story may do nothing more than confirm his or her suspicions. In any case, unless Campbell comes through with his claims of evidence, the police will view it as a "He said - the other guy said" sort of situation, and leave it to the civil courts.
A few suggestions. First, stay on the right side of the law in your dealings with Campbell. Police officers are very astute observers, and people who are normally law-abiding probably can't hide a guilty reaction.
Second, don't try to explain Campbell's history to the officer. All they are going to be interested in is the present complaint. Campbell's accusations of other people, his past psychiatric problems, etc. would make a difference as to whether the DA would actually file charges, but probably won't sway the officer during the initial investigation.
At some point, though, the officer will probably ask about messages you've received from Campbell. Feel free to tell him or her about them. Keep your observations limited to what Campbell has said to you, or what you have experienced from him. Save all emails from him, and save the message if he puts threats on your voicemail. Don't shove copies at the officer, though…tell him or her about them, and mention you have saved them.
(It's legal to save the answering machine tapes or voicemail, because the calling party knows he or she is being recorded. However, in most states, it's illegal to tape a live conversation unless both parties agree to it. Have someone listen on a extension line if you want a witness.)
Finally, try to avoid giving Campbell the least bit of
circumstantial evidence that would support his claim. Don't
call him late at night, even if you find a message on your
answering machine saying to call him immediately, no matter the
time. If he later claims you're harassing him, having phoned
him at, say, 1 AM will look suspicious. Don't make the
*slightest* reference to taking *any* physical action in any
message, even jokingly. If you say, "I'll kick your ass,"
you've just made a threat of physical violence.
One reassurance: If Campbell actually complains about you to the police, there won't be a "covert" investigation. The first thing the cops will do is contact you. If he tells you "the police are investigating" and they haven't contacted you, then you are not a subject of the supposed investigation.
Another kind of police complaint Campbell has made is a claim of personal injury. He has complained that he suffered assault or a personal injury at least three times. Two of the complaints were made against Sun-N-Fun, claiming that he had been struck by trams or golf carts driven by SNF personnel. Both of these complaints were made immediately *after* two separate times Sun-N-Fun ejected him. The third claim was that he had been assaulted by a private individual on Sun-N-Fun grounds immediately before Sun-N-Fun ejected him for the THIRD time. No charges were filed.
In summary, if you are basically a law-abiding citizen, it's not likely you broke any laws in your dealings with Campbell. He may call the police, and they are required to perform some level of investigation. Take it in stride. The cop probably isn't enjoying it, either.
However, if you are one of Campbell's ex-employees, you are vulnerable to a theft accusation. Campbell has formally accused at least two ex-employees for theft of objects that they claimed he had given them as gifts. You can imagine how difficult defense in this situation is…you have possession of the object, but no bill or sale or other written proof that you legally own it.
For all the Campbell stories I've heard, none have ever claimed that he'd taken a swing at anyone or waved his gun around. His threats are sometimes ambiguous ("Someday you'll pay for that"), but he's not going to storm up and start shoving you. He may appear to lose control of himself verbally, though, which tends to make people worry that he's going to become physical. Never has happened, as far as I know.
Basically, if he can find some way to connect his dispute with you with someone else, he'll use it. You might prepare those you can…just tell them that they might hear from some "nutcase" and not to worry if it happens.
As far as employers go, you might warn them of two typical Campbell tactics. First, he may accuse you of something very severe, but back down if the person he's complaining to challenges him. That's what happened when Campbell called Bill Robie's supervisor...Campbell accused Robie of terrorism, then "corrected" himself when the supervisor was skeptical. Second, he will claim to have incontrovertible evidence (referring, once again, to "signed affidavits") that he promises to supply...but either doesn't send, or what he does send is totally innocuous.
If he complains to someone who knows you to any extent, Campbell's accusations will probably sound so outrageous that they'll discount them immediately. If you are represented by a union, bring your shop steward in as soon as possible, just to be on the safe side.
If he knows what you look like and you're at a public event like
a Fly-In, he'll sometimes follow you around taking your
picture. This has been reported by numerous Campbell
opponents. In some cases, he has quit when spotted, in
others, he has continued. Ignore him.
Campbell will sometimes use a collection agency to try to garner a claimed debt. If this happens, insist that the agency supply you with a copy of the agreement by which you owe Campbell. One man who had a monetary dispute with Campbell did that...and never heard from the agency again.
If you have disputes with anyone else, don't let it slip out during your interchanges with Campbell. If you're going through a divorce, for instance, you've got enough to contend with without Campbell contacting your soon-to-be ex.
Some persons Campbell has had disputes with have be the subject of anonymous attacks, as well. Three of his ex-employees have been the target of anonymous child-abuse complaints after leaving. Someone called the publisher of a magazine I occasionally write for and left the message, "Why are you buying articles from that devil-worshipper, Ron Wanttaja?" (Note that Campbell himself had made a similar accusation to the police about Charlie Porter). Other Campbell opponents have been recipients of anonymous complaints of FAA rule violations. And, in the wildest case yet, someone used a US AVIATOR credit card to set up an AOL account in the name of Tony Pucillo (the attorney who sued Campbell) and posted threats to the President's life.
If you do have an aviation-business, of course, there is the potential for damage. Best bet then would be to pretend he doesn't exist. If someone asks you about the dispute, give them your side of it. But don't add a spot on your web page about your dispute with Campbell…why give him any more publicity?
DO keep copies of all correspondence from Campbell, and copies of your outgoing messages as well.
DON'T lose your temper. Keep cool. Otherwise, you may say things that he'll use against you, later. He will often use personal invective to try to goad you into an intemperate response, especially in public. Stay calm, and hang up or walk away.
DON'T speak with him alone. Always have a witness.
DO consult a lawyer if you are worried about your legal vulnerability. DON'T tell Campbell the lawyer's name. In one case, Campbell sent numerous messages to his target's lawyer, who of course, billed his client for the time spent reading and answering them. Let your lawyer reveal his or her name in the appropriate court paperwork, if it comes to that.
DON'T make any threats, even those of legal action. If you are seriously contemplating legal action, turn the situation over to a lawyer. He or she will know whether a formal demand should be made prior to actually filing a suit.
DO abide by any legitimate contract you have executed with Campbell. DON'T be taken in by any claims of implied obligations.
DO ensure all business dealings are in writing. Don't verbally agree to changes in terms; insist on an amended contract.
DO stay within the law. He's not worth going to jail for.
DON'T overreact if you find Campbell surreptitiously taking pictures of you. If he's trying to discredit you, having a picture of you sticking your tongue out or giving him the finger only helps him.
DON'T be concerned when Campbell puts copyright notices on his threatening email. Copyright law exists to protect an author's artistic rights and financial interest in a work, not to keep people from revealing the contents of a threatening letter. If a bank-robber's note includes a copyright notice, do you think the bank teller can't tell anyone about it?
DON'T reveal any personal information about yourself when talking to Campbell. You might be giving him a lever to use against you.
DO be accurate in your description of events, both to Campbell and to the world at large when discussing Campbell. Don't exaggerate.
DO file a police complaint if you feel harassed or threatened. There's not much they can do about it, but it at least places the event on the record.
DON'T respond immediately to Campbell's messages. Think about your response, give it overnight. Again, don't let him goad you into an intemperate response.
DON'T be worried by Campbell's "Exit line" comments: "I'll see you in court" "You'll be hearing from my lawyer" "I have no choice but to call the police." They're just empty threats. A more recent tactic is to add the line "cc: Legal Department" to any email. If he had a "legal department," why wouldn't *they* send the message instead? One would assume that was what he was paying them for....
DON'T forget that any discussion you have with Campbell is completely voluntary. If he threatens to sue you or accuses you of a crime, most attorneys will INSIST you have no further discussions with him. If he insists on insulting you, walk away or hang up. Nothing says you have to listen to him.
DO remember that there's really very little he can do to you. Keep your sense of humor.