in Houston, Texas
Texas campaign ads spark defamation lawsuits
Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 05:25PM CST
By Mike Cronin
state Capitol

How far afield from fact may political ads go, and if they’re shown to be false, when do they enter the realm of defamation?

Two Texas lawsuits are exploring that question.

In one, incumbent state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has sued his GOP-primary opponent for what he says is a false statement about him, reports KVUE News, the ABC affiliate in Austin.

Wentworth campaign officials accuse former Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones of defamation in a radio ad that claims Wentworth “billed both the state of Texas and his campaign fund for the same travel expenses,” Mark Wiggins and Robert McMurrey report.

But Jones has countersued and claims that the statements her ad makes about Wentworth are true.

Winning that type of case is difficult for elected officials, says Catherine Robb, a lawyer based in Austin who specializes in First Amendment law.

“Any time you have a public figure, they're going to be held to a higher standard,” Robb told KVUE. “They're going to have to prove actual malice to succeed, and actual malice is essentially knowledge of the falsity of the statement or reckless disregard as to its truth.”

In another lawsuit, Houston ad agency Rehak Creative Services claims that state House candidate Ann Witt has defamed the company via her website that chronicles campaign donations to Houston Rep. Jim Murphy, who she is challenging in the Republican primary for District 133.

Texas Watchdog reported on the legal fight earlier this month.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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