Political ad leads to campaign lawsuit
Posted September 23, 2010
Updated September 24, 2010
Wilson, N.C. — A Republican candidate for 11th Senate District, which covers Wilson and Nash counties, filed a defamation lawsuit on Thursday against his incumbent rival over a campaign flier.
The lawsuit filed in Wilson County Superior Court claims that Sen. A.B. Swindell and the Democratic Party knowingly made misleading statements against Eldon "Buck" Newton in a campaign mailer.
The flier refers to an incident in 1990 in which Newton was charged with eight counts of drug-related crimes after he was mistakenly implicated in an undercover drug operation.
The charges were dismissed after the Watauga County district attorney discovered the error, saying the incident was a case of mistaken identity. A police officer involved in the operation was later relieved of his duties, according to 1999 documents provided when Newton sought his attorney’s license.
“I have never ever been arrested on a drug charge. I was not arrested in this affair or any other drug affair,” Newton said Thursday during a news conference in Wilson.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and requests a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction requiring Swindell’s campaign and the Democratic Party to mail a retraction notice to everyone who received the mailer.
State GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer also described the campaign fliers as slanderous.
“This is libel and slander, pure and simple. This is a provable, demonstrable falsehood,” Fetzer said.
However, state Democratic Party Executive Director Andrew Whalen issued a statement Thursday defending the accuracy of the mailers.
"(Newton) was indicted by a grand jury of his peers four times for selling illegal narcotics to an undercover officer. He has still not explained how a police officer could buy illegal drugs four times from a man he thought was Buck Newton," Whalen stated.
Veteran Democratic strategist Gary Pearce said regardless of the lawsuit's outcome, candidates should err on the side of caution when attacking opponents.
“To double check, to triple check, to realize that if you throw a bomb in a campaign, you may blow yourself up, instead of your opponent,” Pearce said.
Swindell has not responded to WRAL News' requests for comments on the issue.