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Small-Town NorCal Election Gets Nasty

CAMERON PARK, Calif. (CN) - An embittered former official defamed a longtime county auditor as a "sexual predator" and a "sociopath," El Dorado County's auditor claims in court.

Joseph Harn, El Dorado County's auditor-controller, sued Christopher M. McCaffree on March 12 in El Dorado Court, alleging defamation and libel.

El Dorado County stretches from east of Sacramento to the shores of Lake Tahoe. McCaffree was the county's fiscal administrative manager from February 2006 until March 2009, according to the complaint.

"Harn, in his position as auditor-controller, made a fiscal recommendation to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, who decided to abolish the department in which McCaffree was employed, thereby terminating his employment with El Dorado County and embittering him," the complaint states.

Harn has been auditor-controller for 20 years. He says McCaffree supported his opponent in the 2014 primary.

The complaint states: "On or about March 17, 2014, McCaffree drafted and transmitted via email a message stating, inter alia, '... I have personal knowledge that Joe Hearn [sic] is the worst kind of politician there is ... He only cares about himself and no one else. He is a sexual predator, a sociopath, and a mean-spirited man ... Joe Harn makes it routine to threaten anyone who opposes him.'" (Ellipses in complaint.)

Harn claims that the email "is phrased in the context of and coupled with other remarks averring that plaintiff's purported acts and misconduct have been directed at female county employees in plaintiff's workplace." He says McCaffree sent the email to "persons unknown," who forwarded it to others.

In addition to being exposed to "hatred, contempt, ridicule, and obloquy," Harn says, he had to spend $80,000 on campaign expenses he would not otherwise have had to spend.

McCaffree called the lawsuit "a ploy by Joe Harn to intimidate anyone who will speak against him."

About his email calling Harn a "sexual predator," McCaffrey told Courthouse News, "I said that and I believe it and I believe it can be proved, and I believe there will be a number of women who will be witnesses."

He added: "I'm happy to make it a public trial for both of us, if he wants to do that."

McCaffree denied blaming Harn for the closure of his department.

"I had no idea he was involved in that. He's claiming to have something to do with that. This is the first time I've heard it," McCaffrey said.

Mike Owen, who ran against Harn in 2014, told Courthouse News that McCaffree was one of his supporters, but was not a volunteer or otherwise affiliated with his campaign. McCaffree confirmed that was the case.

"I did it totally on my own," he said. "I was just trying to educate people that 'now you have a chance to choose a different auditor-controller.' Just as an individual trying to do my civic duty."

In a twist, Harn filed a motion to dismiss his lawsuit on March 18. He told Courthouse News this was due a one-year statute of limitations.

"Many of Mr. McCaffree's false and libelous statements and actions occurred over a year ago," Harn said.

He added: "Based on Mr. McCaffree's statements, it sounds like he welcomes litigation on this matter. If Chris McCaffree is willing to waive the statute of limitations, I would be delighted to refile my lawsuit."

"McCaffree's utterly false statements and other actions were part of the orchestrated political theater staged by the Mike Owen campaign," he said.

Harn was represented by Michael E. Petersen in Placerville, who was not available for comment.

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