Korbel family feud escalates over Web comments

  • PC: Korbel's Gary Heck.

    9/12/2004: 126: Gary Heck with his blazing red '62 Impala.

When Korbel Champagne Cellars? owner Gary Heck sued to find out who was saying nasty things about him on the Internet, he might have been surprised to discover an answer so close to home.

The anonymous critic on Craigslist was his daughter Richie Ann, according to papers Korbel filed in Sonoma County Superior Court.

Heck and Richie Ann Samii are embroiled in a bitter legal fight over a multimillion-dollar stake in Korbel, America?s top seller of traditional sparkling wine.

Heck is now suing his daughter for defamation, alleging she?s the source of online diatribes that damaged the reputation of the century-old Guerneville winery.

Samii denies making the comments, although she admits they came from her Internet account.

?I did not write those posts,? she said. ?There are many people who have access, via wireless, to our Comcast connection.?

She said Korbel?s defamation suit is part of campaign to deny her a rightful share in the family business, which posted $165 million in sales last year.

?I just want what my grandmother left me,? said Samii, 40. ?This is a witch hunt.?

Korbel?s defamation suit has prompted criticism from advocates of free speech on the Internet, who say it could discourage people from posting anonymous comments online.

Web sites and Internet providers aren?t obligated to protect the identities of users who make potentially libelous statements, according to legal experts.

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