(Indianapolis, IN) - La Porte County Auditor Tim Stabosz has scored a legal victory in the defamation of character lawsuit filed against him by La Porte County Attorney Shaw Friedman. The Indiana Court of Appeals has agreed to hear Stabosz’s motion to dismiss the case.
The decision overturns the decision of an Elkhart County judge who ruled against Stabosz in his bid to have the case dismissed.
“It’s very exciting because it means they believe that there’s something that needs to be looked at here and the trial court judge may have erred or that this is a serious enough matter that it warrants examination or reexamination by them,” Stabosz said.
Friedman filed the lawsuit over a year ago in response to Stabosz alleging that Friedman runs county government by controlling elected officials. Stabosz said public officials like Friedman are open to criticism under a law designed to protect “legitimate public comment” on how a public official operates.
The trial court judge that ruled the case should go to trial said Stabosz did not present sufficient evidence to show his comments about Friedman were not made with malice or reckless disregard for the truth. Stabosz, though, said he was prohibited from presenting key evidence at that stage in the court proceedings to substantiate his claims that he was speaking what he believed and suspected to be the truth and that his words were not purposefully used to harm.
Stabosz argued that defendants in defamation cases should be allowed to effectively argue their reasons for dismissal to avoid the potential of a costly trial to defend themselves fully. He said defamation cases ordered to trial without both sides having equal opportunity to present their findings can restrict public comment, especially if citizens can’t afford a heavy legal expense.
Stabosz said now the burden of proof is on Friedman to show the appeals court the allegations about him are not accurate or made with the intent of doing him harm.
“There’s going to be an argument to this appeals court about what standard I have to fulfill to have this case dismissed or what standard he has to fulfill. He has to establish with convincing clarity that there’s a reasonable basis to believe that I’ve said things that are false, I knew they were false, or I had reckless disregard for the truth. I can assure the public that I have not had reckless disregard for the truth. I look forward to convincing the appeals court that everything I’ve said was in good faith,” he said.