AMARILLO, Texas (CN) — A state appeals court dismissed a politician's libel lawsuit against a recent law school graduate who accused him of sexually harassing her, an accusation that got him barred from the campus of the Texas Tech University School of Law.
The Seventh District Court of Appeals in Amarillo found that Donald R. May, a retired Lubbock physician who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in March, failed to show evidence that his accuser acted with malice when she accused him of sexual misconduct.
The Oct. 4 ruling reversed a trial court decision that allowed May's defamation case to proceed against Kristen Vander-Plas, who, like May, was active in Republican politics in Lubbock.
May, a local newspaper columnist who also ran unsuccessfully for the same congressional seat in 2014, claimed in his lawsuit that Vander-Plas told Texas Tech officials he had sexually harassed her in 2009, 2011 and 2012, before she began law school.
May denied the allegations but was banned from the campus, where he says he regularly debated issues with a law school faculty member and attended lectures and other events.
When May filed an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking more details about the harassment allegations from Texas Tech, Vander-Plas issued a statement saying she had been "the recipient of multiple incidents of unwanted sexual contact from Don May," according to the appeals court ruling.
May claimed a "possible motive" for Vander-Plas' statements could have been that he was elected as a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention — not her.
The appeals court found May's allegations too general and without "specific evidence of Vander-Plas's actual malice."
"Even when examined in a light favorable to May, his pleading contains no evidence, much less clear and specific evidence, that Vander-Plas's press release statement was both false and made with knowledge of, or reckless disregard for, its falsity," Justice James T. Campbell wrote for the three-judge panel.
The court also found the statements protected by the state's anti-SLAPP law.
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