Political Defamation Case Given Another Look


     (CN) - A Republican who allegedly told lies about the woman trying to keep him out of political office may get to duck her defamation claims, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled.
     Kelly Spratt knew Bradley Toft when he was her supervisor at Quadrant Home Loans from 2001 to 2005.
     Both she and Toft's supervisor have told the court that Toft's manipulative and untrustworthy management style made him the subject of several company meetings.
     Spratt said that Toft made some her co-workers cry and that he swung a baseball bat at her head.
     She resigned after Toft unjustifiably accused her of unethical behavior and quickly joined Washington Square, which was a Wells Fargo joint venture like Quadrant.
     Six years after leaving Quadrant, Spratt learned that Toft was running for a seat on the Washington state Senate in the Republican primary.
     At a March 2012 candidate meet-and-greet event, Spratt, a Republican, spoke about the baseball-bat incident asked Toft to admit that Quadrant fired him in late 2006.
     Spratt continued to oppose Toft's candidacy on Facebook and Twitter. Toft and his wife, Jill, filed an anti-harassment petition against her in August 2012, but the court refused to issue an order against Spratt.
     Spratt later discovered an "anonymous" letter that October containing what she considered defamatory statements about her. She sued the Tofts for defamation, claiming that Bradley Toft had written the letter.
     Toft, who lost the 2012 election to Democratic nominee Mark Mullet, moved to strike Spratt's action as a strategic lawsuit against public participation.
     The trial court struck the motion and found it frivolous, awarding Spratt $33,109 in fees, costs and sanctions.
     In an April 21 reversal, the Washington Court of Appeals said Toft's motion to strike should not have been blocked.
     "Toft has a protected right to speak in furtherance of his candidacy," Judge C. Kenneth Grosse wrote for a three-judge panel. "Toft's action to combat accusations against him while he was campaigning for office clearly falls within those protected rights."
     Toft's fulfillment of "the threshold burden of the anti-SLAPP statute" causes the burden now to shift "to Spratt to show, by clear and convincing evidence, a probability of prevailing on her defamation claim," the 16-page ruling states.
     "Spratt interjected herself into the public process of a candidate running for office by attacking his credentials to hold office, a matter of public concern," Grosse added. "Under the facts before us, Toft has met the minimal standard needed to prove his case falls within the ambit of the statute."