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Judge Lewis, whose baliwick includes Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties, sued Edward Lee Rapp, who worked for GOP state Senate candidate Bettie Fennell in her 2010 campaign against Bill Rabon. According to accounts by the StarNewsOnline and ABA Law News Today blog, Rapp posted online criticism of Judge Lewis for purportedly wearing a Rabon campaign button and allegedly claimed Judge Lewis violated the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct by openly supporting Rabon.
The Code permits judges who are seeking re-election to endorse other candidates running for office. Rapp apologized for errors in his initial post, maintaining he was unaware Lewis was running for re-election, but contended his online statements in any case were First Amendment protected political speech.
Lewis sued Rapp for defamation in 2010, but a state judge threw out the case a year later, finding the allegedly offensive remarks were protected political speech. The North Carolina Court of Appeals in May 2012, reversed in part, holding that only one of the defendant's two blog posts at issue was protected political speech, remanding the case to the superior court for trial.