Lawyers argue that the first amendment is grounds for dismissing the former GOP leader’s defamation lawsuit

A judge on Wednesday heard a motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit on behalf of The Tribune and others, but made no decision.

Former Salt Lake County GOP communications director David Robinson filed the lawsuit in January 2022, claiming there was a coordinated campaign to remove him from his role in the Republican Party. Robinson initially named more than 100 defendants — including Gov. Spencer Cox, Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson and Zion’s banker Scott Anderson — and joined former party chairman Scott Miller in seeking $100 million in damages.

Robinson’s lawsuit was amended and now only includes 11 defendants. He demands an amount of more than 60 million US dollars, which must be determined in court.

In March 2021, The Tribune reported that more than half a dozen Republican women said they experienced a toxic environment within the Salt Lake County GOP. The women accused Robinson, the party’s former honorary communications director, of harassment, body shaming and other inappropriate behavior. They also said Scott Miller dismissed their complaints.

Defendants in the amended lawsuit include The Salt Lake Tribune; Nexstar Media, which owns the ABC4 television network; Salt Lake County Councilors Aimee Winder Newton and Laurie Stringham; including former Salt Lake County record flute nominee Erin Preston and Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.

“I know this is a matter of public interest,” Judge Barry Lawrence said Wednesday. “We have, for lack of a better term, a riot in the Republican Party, a political party. We had seven people who came forward and made claims against (Robinson). I must now assume that these claims are false for today’s purposes.”

Lawrence divided Wednesday’s hearing into three groups: media, the state, and all other defendants. Political leaders and journalists enjoy different privileges than the others named in the lawsuit.

media arguments

Mike Judd, an attorney at Parsons Behle & Latimer representing The Tribune, said Miller published a letter detailing the allegations against Robinson before the Tribune article was published. That same morning, Gov. Cox and Lieutenant Gov. Henderson held a press conference discussing the allegations in the letter, Judd said.

“When the (The) Tribune letter article appeared, it was undoubtedly a public controversy,” Judd said. “If the First Amendment protects any kind of reporting, it is this. It is clear and accurate reporting of a struggle for control of a county party in the midst of an election campaign. That’s what The Tribune was born for.”

Judd argued that the First Amendment’s neutral reporting privilege allowed the Tribune to report on the controversy. That privilege means journalists are immune from lawsuits by prominent figures if they accurately report serious allegations made against them by a range of prosecutors, Judd said.

Judd went on to say that Robinson is a prominent figure in “the general sense” as he is “deeply involved in Utah GOP politics.”

But even his status as a political public figure doesn’t detract from that privilege, Judd said. He cited an unpublished 2000 Utah Court of Appeals ruling in which the court found that a person’s status as a public figure “didn’t matter” because The Tribune accurately reported recorded matters that “did much less.” Scope than this case” were “a matter of public interest.”

“The Tribune so often writes articles summarizing debates involving mud fights between political figures that so rarely do they actually lead to libel suits like this one,” Judd said. “Another reason the court may rarely bring up neutral reporting privilege is that an article like The Salt Lake Tribune can often draw on the actual truth of its reporting, which is that not a word was in that news. “History that is inaccurate.”

Cases for states and counties

As the hearing shifted to the state accused, Lawrence said he was concerned that he felt members of a political party should be able to speak out about conflicts within their party without fear of reprisals. He then asked the prosecutor if this fits in with a “nice, orderly” legal privilege.

Joni Jones, an attorney representing the state’s defendants – including Thatcher; Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton and others argued that the statements made by the prosecutors were not defamatory opinions. Another attorney representing Abby Evans, who serves as political adviser to Borough Council member Laurie Stringham, said the same thing.

Jones explained that part of the state law also protects statements made “in the proper performance of an official duty.” That law applies to members of local legislatures, Jones said, and includes press releases about matters of public interest related to a public official’s office.

Lawrence asked how this applies to social media posts or statements on a podcast.

“Over the years, our country has developed a deep national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it can certainly involve fierce, scathing, sometimes uncomfortably sharp attacks on government officials Jones said, citing a 2019 Utah ruling in Davidson v. Baird, which also cites a 1964 US Supreme Court ruling in Sullivan v. New York Times.

“In the course of such intense debates on issues of public interest, it is inevitable that occasionally statements will be made that are not entirely accurate,” she continued. “Such occasional false statements are the price we pay for an open democracy and must be protected to give freedom of expression the breathing space it needs to survive.”

Jones continued to argue that Robinson did not prove that the statements made by the state defendants were malicious. The 1964 Sullivan decision stipulated that plaintiffs must show that the defendants acted intentionally in making allegedly defamatory statement – meaning that the defendant knew that the statement was false or that its falsehood was “reckless.” disregarded”.

Other arguments

Erin Preston, an attorney who previously ran for clerkship in Salt Lake County, represented herself at Wednesday’s hearing. Preston is one of the seven women who accused Robinson of harassment and previously said she overheard Robinson calling women at the party “sluts,” “fat,” and “sloppy seconds.”

“I was a person that Mr. Robinson addressed comments to,” Preston said. “He ran my campaign as the party delegate. According to his own statements, he controlled my website. He wrote comments on my behalf. He tried to control media sources I couldn’t go to, he wrote things I objected to. When I complained, I was immediately told to go back to him and do nothing without his “OK.”

Preston said her response to Robinson’s comments was that she needed “Robinson out of my campaign and out of my life,” citing a text message she sent to Miller. She argued that her comments cited in the complaint were opinions.

“I didn’t want to harm him, the party and anyone else. I had no malice. I had no intention of causing harm,” Preston continued. “I know that I have the right to speak my mind, particularly on matters of public interest. When I learned of the testimonies against so many others, I began to consider this a matter of public interest.”

Lawrence considered the attorneys’ arguments. He said he will likely take the defendants’ decisions “in part”.

Justin Scaccy

InternetCloning is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button