Judge denies request to dismiss defamation lawsuit against state GOP director
A Clark County district court judge has denied an anti-SLAPP motion filed by the executive director of the Nevada Republican Party over a defamation case filed by three Republican supporters of Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford, a procedural step that will allow the case to continue.
Judge Jessica Peterson’s order, issued Thursday, states that Nevada Republican Party Executive Director Alida Benson failed to clear the burden of proof for the anti-SLAPP motion, a law that allows defendants in defamation cases to avoid extensive litigation in cases where a lawsuit might otherwise silence their speech.
The order states that Benson failed to establish that her comments alleging the three Republicans were “truthful or made without knowledge of its falsehood,” a key prong required for a successful anti-SLAPP motion.
“The Court simply does not have any admissible evidence to support that Benson knew at the time she made the statement that it was true or made without knowledge of it being false,” the order states.
The defamation lawsuit was filed in late October by Republicans Amy Tarkanian, Elliot Malin and Jason Guinasso, Republicans who crossed party lines to endorse Ford over his Republican opponent Sigal Chattah. Ford defeated Chattah by more than 77,000 votes in the election.
In their complaint, the three Republicans claimed that during a September meeting of the Clark County Republican Party Benson accused Tarkanian (a former state party chair) and Malin (a lobbyist) of “personally profiting by supporting Aaron Ford.”
Their lawsuit also named another meeting attendee, James Blockey, who accused the trio of “getting paid” to work for the Democratic Party, according to the suit. He did not file an anti-SLAPP motion, though a separate motion to dismiss or receive a summary judgment from Blockey was also denied, in part because he failed to include any admissible evidence “establishing what he believed at the time he made the statement.”
In a joint statement, the three Republicans said they "are very pleased at the ruling, and look forward to holding the Republican Party Executive Director further accountable for her reckless and damaging fabrications."
Still, Peterson’s order leaves several major legal questions, including whether or not the plaintiffs qualify as public or private figures and, as a result, whether or not a stringent “actual malice” standard may apply in this case. That standard, established by the federal Supreme Court in 1964, is a notoriously difficult-to-prove bar requiring defamatory statements to have been made while either knowing they were false or with reckless disregard for the truth.
Both parties in the case have also offered competing explanations for the “gist” of Benson’s statements, leaving the question of whether or not the statements were defamatory at all to be decided by a jury.
Nevada law also requires plaintiffs in defamation cases to prove that a false and defamatory statement was made by the defendant to a third party, as well as proving fault and “actual or presumed damages.”
The Nevada Republican Party did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Friday.
Updated on 5/5/2023 at 3:21 p.m. to include a statement from the three Republicans who filed the lawsuit.
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