Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Losing Pol's Libel Case Takes a "Cosmo" Turn

The Atlanta Constitution Building in 1995.Image via WikipediaTwice-unsuccessful Georgia gubernatorial candidate Ray McBerry's defamation suit against a couple of  political bloggers and a woman who claims McBerry had an inappropriate relationship with her teenage daughter, has taken a decidedly unpleasant turn, according to reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Huffington Post.

In  Ray McBerry v. Thomas Knighton, Jeff Sexton & Linda Kidd Pittman (Case No. 10-cv-4279-AM), filed in Henry County Superior Court in November 2010, McBerry sued for defamation, alleging in his Complaint that during the recent gubernatorial campaign, Pittman referred to him as a "child molester" on a Facebook page.  In her Answer, Pittman said her statements of opinion were non-defamatory protected speech under the First Amendment, and that the facts about which she opined were previously published, and therefore, did not cause further damage to McBerry's reputation, which she contends already is "bad."

The head-turning direction in which the case has gone stems from interrogatories sent by Pittman's attorney to McBerry that seek information, including a list of  every partner with whom he has had a "physically intimate, romantic or sexual relationship[s]."  Juicy stuff for a news media ever on the prowl for lurid doings involving public officials. Less sensational, but more intriguing, is the naming of the bloggers as defendants, with its First Amendment Internet political speech ramifications.

McBerry, a former high school teacher, was sanctioned by the state licensing board in 2003 for his conduct during an investigation after he admitted  giving a cell phone to a then-16-year-old female that allowed her to communicate with him without her parents' knowledge.

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