KNOXVILLE (CN) – An elected Republican in Tennessee who misrepresented on his blog that a Democratic contender had drug arrests must face defamation claims, an appeals court ruled.
Stacey Campfield was a state representative during the 2008 elections and has since become a state senator. His Oct. 14, 2008, blog post targeted Democratic candidate Roger Byrge, who was fighting a close race in the 36th State House District.
After complaining about the media for bringing up a Republican’s “old DUI conviction,” Campfield wrote that a better story for the press was a Democrat in a close open-seat race with a drug-related past running against a police officer.
“Word is that a similar mail piece has gone out exposing Roger Byrge multiple separate drug arrests,” Campfield wrote. “Including arrests for possession and drug dealing. (I hear the mug shots are gold).”
Byrge’s opponent Chad Faulkner was indeed a police officer, but Byrge himself was a veteran deputy sheriff’s officer. The arrest record actually belonged to his son, who lived at the same address.
Byrge lost the election and sued Campfield in November 2008 for libel, false light invasion of privacy, emotional distress and damage to his reputation.
Judge John McAfee with the Campbell County Circuit Court granted Campfield summary judgment last year, saying he “can see how you could mess that up.”
“It is what it is,” McAfee wrote, incorporating ruling into his May order. “Sometimes you just get beat, and that’s just the plain simple truth of the matter. Been there, done that, and it’s just the way it is.”
The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Monday, saying evidence may show that Campfield’s blog post was written with actual malice and a desire to injure Byrge.
Though Campfield told the court that he got his information from Rep. Glen Casada, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus in the Tennessee General Assembly, Casada has testified that “the information he conveyed to Campfield merely was preliminary,” according to the ruling (emphasis in original).
“We, therefore, hold that the record before us contains clear and convincing evidence upon which a tier of fact could find actual malice on Campfield’s part,” Judge D. Michael Swiney wrote for a three-judge panel. “Campfield was unable to negate the element of actual malice, and the trial court erred in granting Campfield’s motion for summary judgment.”
“This court recognizes and values the robust, free exchanges in politics that are so central to democracy and our constitutional republic,” the decision continues. “However, here we have a case not about differences of ideology or opinion, but rather about factually false allegations made against a candidate for public office.”
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