(Indianapolis, IN) - The attorney for La Porte County government has won his latest legal battle with the La Porte County Auditor. The Indiana Court of Appeals has unanimously ruled against Tim Stabosz on his challenge of a lower court’s decision not to dismiss a defamation of character lawsuit filed against him by attorney Shaw Friedman.
In their written ruling, the appellate judges ruled Stabosz and Friedman appear to be political adversaries and Stabosz left the door open to the possibility that he acted with malice when he accused Friedman of being corrupt without evidence backing up his claims.
The appeals court explained Stabosz has not presented evidence of wrongdoing. In addition, when asked by Friedman to go to the proper authorities with his concerns, Stabosz failed to do so. By not going to law enforcement, the judges ruled Stabosz gave some indication that he possibly made his claims against Friedman with some degree of doubt that his allegations were true.
The appellate judges also ruled Friedman at this point was not required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stabosz acted in bad faith with his allegations, but has to before a jury to be awarded damages in the case.
“While it is undisputed that Friedman would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Stabosz acted with actual malice in order to be successful at trial, at this stage in the proceedings, Friedman was not required to prove actual malice by clear and convincing evidence,” the ruling stated.
In response, Stabosz said he will discuss with his legal counsel the possibility of taking his request for dismissal of the case to the Indiana Supreme Court. He stated that he went to certain authorities like the La Porte County Commissioners and the Indiana State Board of Accounts with his concerns. Stabosz said he didn’t go to law enforcement locally, alleging individuals like the prosecutor and Friedman are in the same political camp.
“I didn’t have any faith they would do anything,” he said.
Stabosz said there’s no obligation to report wrongdoing to the proper authorities to have a defamation case dismissed.
“The notion that your rights to have a defamation lawsuit against you dismissed because you didn’t go to authorities are absurd. That’s a misapplication of the law,” he said.
Stabosz also disagreed with the ruling that Friedman does not have to prove at a much higher level that he acted maliciously or with reckless disregard for the truth for the case to be dismissed.
In addition, Stabosz said much of his evidence rests with individuals who have pledged to testify against Friedman at trial. He said the Indiana Court of Appeals seemed to want the case decided at trial rather than grant dismissal.
“They basically punted,” he said.
Bill Jonas, an attorney from South Bend representing Friedman in the defamation case, offered this reaction to the appellate court ruling.
“The opinion speaks for itself,” he said.
Jonas said the court failed to dismiss the case because Stabosz has not shown that his statements about Friedman were made with a reasonable basis in fact and in good faith. Jonas said the defamation case will now move forward again toward trial.
He would not estimate when the case could be settled or go to a jury since there’s still a lot of work to be done before it can be decided.