Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Shut Up or I'll Sue You

Lawsuits designed to curtail public discussion are, thankfully, a rare thing, but today there are two "slap" suits worth note.

The first comes from Faulkner County where the finances of the Sheriff's Office have been a disaster for some time. A Special Prosecutor investigated and, though no charges were filed, he did find irregularities. Then there was a state audit. I blogged about that here. Late in the year, for whatever reason, the Sheriff ran out of money despite a supplemental appropriation.

So, what more could go wrong?

According to the Log Cabin Democrat, Faulkner County Sheriff Marty Montgomery is threatening to sue Justice of the Peace Catherin Blankenship for slander. Yep, Montgomery is a public person and thus, presumably, unable to file such charges without some proof of what is called "malice."

He told Blankenship she needs to get an attorney and that he will be pursuing legal action against her as an individual and in her capacity as JP.

"It's ending tonight," he said, speaking of allegations being made against his department. "I've been very patient and kind."

Blankenship first brought concerns about expenditures in the sheriff's office to the Finance and Administration Committee in November 2004.

So, lawyers, what the heck is "malice" anyway?

Montgomery is represented by a Hot Springs attorney named Ralph Ohm.

Blankenship is running for County Judge and that makes one wonder what could possibly be wrong with raising questions about how taxpayer money is spent?

Meanwhile in Memphis, The Commercial Appeal has the story of a rich land developer who can't take the heat. He's all worked up over, of all things, a letter to the editor opposing a development in a local neighborhood.

Developer David Halle claims the letter published in the Jan. 11 edition of The Commercial Appeal contained "false and malicious defamatory remarks" about him.

Catherine Noonan-Selden wrote the letter after the Collierville Planning Commission voted 5-4 on Jan. 5 to approve Halle's rezoning request for his proposed 55-lot subdivision just north of Shea Woods subdivision, where Noonan-Selden lives.

Halle's Circuit Court suit, filed Thursday, focuses on two paragraphs in Noonan-Selden's letter which state:

"The part that truly angered me and other residents in attendance was the fact that David Halle (the "winning" developer) was overheard to say, 'They lost before they got here.' Tommy Hart, prominent Collierville businessman and former county commissioner, owns the land in question. Is this why the hearing was a slam dunk?

"Although we may not have the zoning commission in our pockets, we are committed to ensuring that there is not rampant, unchecked development through our neighborhood. The beginning battle of the zoning may have been won, but the war is just brewing."

Is this some sort of trend? It's bad enough that Big Brother listens in on all our phone calls without as much a thread of probable cause and some people are secretly tortured, but now you have to cheerfully accept whatever powerful people smear in your face? I don't think so.

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