Neb. high court rejects lawsuit over GOP campaign fliers

Saturday, April 30, 2011

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska Supreme Court has rejected a former legislative candidate’s defamation lawsuit against the state Republican Party, finding that campaign fliers in a November 2008 race were protected by the First Amendment.

Omaha Democrat Rex Moats sued the GOP after losing in the election, saying he was defamed by 11 different campaign fliers that were either mailed or hand-delivered to voters.

The fliers referenced Moats’ work with National Warranty Insurance Group, a vehicle-repair insurance company that failed in 2003 and left about 500,000 people without coverage.

In the mailings, the Nebraska GOP claimed Moats received a $50,000 trust fund from the insurance company and misled creditors and the public. One of the mailings was posed as a letter from Moats while vacationing in the Cayman Islands, where National Warranty was based.

A Douglas County district judge dismissed the lawsuit in August 2009, ruling there was no merit to Moats’ claim that the Republican mailings violated the Nebraska Consumer Protection Act. Moats appealed, saying, “Nebraskans are entitled to an election process that respects the dignity of her people, the rule of law and the truthful dissemination of information.”

But the state’s high court on April 28 rejected Moats’ appeal, saying the fliers were “written to persuade voters to vote against Moats through the use of both rhetoric and hyperbole.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Lindsay Miller-Lerman wrote that she would have reversed the district court’s order to allow the case to move forward on Moats’ defamation claims regarding some of the publications that implied Moats had made false statements under oath.

“It is well settled that there is no constitutional right to espouse false assertions of facts, even against a public figure in the course of public disclosure,” Miller-Lerman wrote.

Moats’ attorney didn’t comment on the ruling in time for this story. Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson hailed the ruling, calling the lawsuit “frivolous.”

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