North Carolina attorney general fights campaign ad probe




  • In Politics
  • 2022-08-17 21:35:06Z
  • By Associated Press
 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The campaign committee for North Carolina's Attorney General Josh Stein asked a federal court on Wednesday to block enforcement of a seldom-used libel law as the committee faces possible criminal prosecution for a political ad from Stein's last race.

Under fire for the TV ad targeting his 2020 Republican challenger, Stein's campaign filed a motion asking the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to grant a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the law.

Dating to at least 1931, the law makes it illegal to deliberately disseminate a false "derogatory report" that could harm a candidate's chance of election. The campaign's motion comes as a Wake County district attorney prepares to empanel a grand jury in the case.

The motion urged that the district attorney be blocked from enforcing what the campaign called "an overbroad, poorly tailored criminal libel law" while the court assesses whether it violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

Caught between his political prospects and his duty to defend state law, the Democratic attorney general and potential 2024 gubernatorial contender finds himself fighting enforcement of a criminal law he's meant to defend - one that a former political opponent accused his own campaign of violating.

Stein's GOP rival in 2020 - Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill - cited the law in a complaint to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, prompting Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman's office to investigate even after the elections board dropped the case against Stein's campaign committee in 2021.

"The District Attorney for Wake County, NC, is threatening to enforce a criminal libel law in a way that curtails public debate and undermines the integrity of the democratic process in North Carolina," Stein campaign attorney Pressly Millen wrote.

The O'Neill campaign has argued Stein's commercial, which accused the Republican of letting more than a thousand rape kits go untested, was libelous because police rather than prosecutors are responsible for testing rape kits.

The misdemeanor for violating the law carries a penalty of up to 60 days in jail with fines, but someone with an otherwise clean criminal record would avoid serving time if convicted.

Stein also filed an emergency motion Wednesday asking the appellate court to decide the case by Friday "because grand jury proceedings are imminent."

His latest legal actions follow U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles' refusal Monday to set aside the law while the Stein campaign and other plaintiffs seek to strike the statute.

Eagles asserts the law is constitutionally permissible because it "criminalizes false defamatory speech about public officials made with actual malice" and allows enough "breathing space" for protected speech.

___

Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/H_Schoenbaum.

COMMENTS

More Related News

SLO County DA Dan Dow is taking the Tianna Arata case to the Supreme Court. Good for him
SLO County DA Dan Dow is taking the Tianna Arata case to the Supreme Court. Good for him
  • US
  • 2022-10-02 12:30:00Z

"Normally, we'd tell him to give it a rest already," writes The Tribune Editorial Board. | OPINION

Defendants file to move Farmington
Defendants file to move Farmington's SJGS lawsuit to federal court

Four utilities being sued by Farmington in a state court want the lawsuit over the future of San Juan Generating Station tried in a federal court.

When free markets hit the frying pan, consumers often get burned
When free markets hit the frying pan, consumers often get burned

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on an AFBF and NPPC petition over the constitutionality of California's Proposition 12.

Federal Court Rules for Catholic School That Fired Teacher in Same-Sex Union
Federal Court Rules for Catholic School That Fired Teacher in Same-Sex Union

A federal court in Indiana ruled on Friday in favor of a Catholic private school that fired a teacher who had entered into a same-sex union in violation of...

Westerville man pleads guilty to role in laundering nearly $4.3M in online romance scams
Westerville man pleads guilty to role in laundering nearly $4.3M in online romance scams
  • US
  • 2022-09-30 10:08:30Z

Edward Amankwah, 45, of Westerville. admitted to conspiring to launder nearly $4.3M from online romance scams through bank accounts in his control.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Politics