Litigious Congressman Trying To Bury History Of His Arrest Through Lawsuits And Bogus Legal Threats

from the let's-see-how-that-works dept

If you’re in Congress, you’re supposed to understand the law, right? Representative Steve Stockman from Texas has big ambitions: specifically, he’s seeking the nomination in Texas (against incumbent John Cornyn) for the US Senate. Last week, Ken from Popehat did a great job detailing the bizarre and ridiculous defamation lawsuit that Stockman had filed against Texans for a Conservative Majority, a PAC that was supporting Cornyn, claiming that it was defamation for them to claim that he had been “charged with a felony” and had been in jail. As Popehat points out, there’s a big problem with the lawsuit, in that not only are those tidbits factual information, Stockman himself has confirmed them:

First problem: as a public figure, Stockman will have to prove that the defendants made false statements against him with actual malice — meaning knowing that they were false or with reckless disregard to their truth or falsity. But as the Dallas Morning News reports, Stockman previously admitted to newspapers that he had been jailed several times and charged with a felony:

Tonight, Rep. Steve Stockman accused a group that supports Sen. John Cornyn of lying about him, by asserting that he had been “jailed more than once” and was “charged with a felony.”

That is strange, because Stockman has admitted to these facts, several times.

“I may have been in jail a couple of times, two or three times,” he told this newspaper.

As for the felony charge, that stemmed from the time his girlfriend hid three Valium tablets in his underpants when he was reporting for a weekend in jail. “When they found that they charged me with a felony,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

I suppose it’s possible that Stockman actually means to complain about some other unspecified statements defendants made that don’t match things he’s already admitted are true. However, as a general rule, if a defamation plaintiff doesn’t list a false statement in their complaint, you can predict that either (1) the statement they are complaining about is a non-actionable statement of opinion and they are trying to hide that fact, or (2) it doesn’t exist. Remember what we say around these here parts: vagueness in a legal threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery.

Oh, and it gets worse. The filing itself literally says:

“Even if true… truth is not a defense to this statement.

Except, as pretty much anyone with even a smattering of legal knowledge knows, of course truth is a defense to defamation. Popehat goes even further:

That’s pure bullshit, and the attorney who asserted it is either dishonest or an idiot. “Whether the plaintiff is a public figure or not, falsity is always an element of the cause of action, and truth is an absolute defense to defamation. See Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, 74, 85 S.Ct. 209, 215, 13 L.Ed.2d 125 (1964) (public figure); Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps, 475 U.S. 767, 768–69, 106 S.Ct. 1558, 1559, 89 L.Ed.2d 783 (1986) (private figure); Bentley v. Bunton, 94 S.W.3d 561, 580 (Tex.2002) (public figure); Turner v. KTRK Television, Inc., 38 S.W.3d 103, 116 (Tex.2000) (public figure); McIlvain v. Jacobs, 794 S.W.2d 14, 15–16 (Tex.1990) (private figure).” Pardo v. Simons, 148 S.W.3d 181, 186 (Tex. App. 2004). The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed this.

Oh, but Stockman apparently isn’t done digging. All of the above was from last week. This week, he’s decided that anyone who publishes his mugshot from that arrest way back when is somehow criminally liable and may face jailtime.

“A Michigan official has removed documents from a state website that erroneously claimed U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman had been convicted of a crime in the 1970s,” Stockman spokesperson Donny Ferguson wrote on the campaign’s website. “Michigan’s 43rd Judicial District Clerk stated Stockman was never convicted of any charge and the documents were supposed to have been destroyed in 1978. Another Michigan official has advised Stockman he has grounds to file criminal complaints against any person or media organization that published the documents.”

Got that last part? That appears to be Stockman’s spokesperson threatening any “person or media organization” that publishes the criminal complaint against Stockman or his mugshot. Of course, those are both newsworthy items. Plenty of publications have published the mugshot:

And a few, like the Texas Tribune, have published the complaint — which again Stockman has admitted to in earlier interviews, even if he’s claiming it’s “criminal” to mention it now. You would think that for an elected official — and one who claims to be very “conservative” — he’d understand concepts like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Oh well. Below you can find both his lawsuit… and his arrest report. Not only is it perfectly reasonable to publish these documents, but Stockman’s own actions, making the arrest report even more newsworthy, highlights why any credible news organization covering the story almost has to publish the documents to provide the necessary background for Stockman’s own lawsuit and questionable claims.

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Comments on “Litigious Congressman Trying To Bury History Of His Arrest Through Lawsuits And Bogus Legal Threats”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We think its a very good anti-SLAPP law, but it’s shiny new and hasn’t been applied a lot yet, and no appeals have gone the distance to the state Supreme Court yet, that I’m aware of. That court has been very very pro-business lately, so it will be interesting to see this law applied in a business defamation or product disparagement context.

orangemike (profile) says:

Re: Why, for all that is decent ...

Copyright is kinda hinky with mugshots, and as a result, Wikipedia tends to steer clear of them in most cases. It may also be reasonably argued that the inclusion of a mugshot in an article about a person NOT best known for his criminal record constitutes undue emphasis on that aspect of his life history. This is the kind of situation where my contempt for a reactionary jerk is overruled by my commitment as an admin, to Wikipedia’s principles of balance, and caution regarding possible copyright violation.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why, for all that is decent ...

The mugshot would have been created by government officials ( police officers) in the performance of their regular duties. There is no copyright on such works in the United States. I can see many reasons for Wikipedia not wanting to include mugshots in someone’s bio, but copyright is not one of those reasons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dishonest or idiot?

That’s pure bullshit, and the attorney who asserted it is either dishonest or an idiot.

He’s an idiot either way. Knowingly asserting things that are obviously wrong can only lead to sanctions. When your filing is on shaky grounds to begin with, you don’t want to make an false claim like “truth is not a defense” – TWICE – that the other side can then point to as evidence that your entire lawsuit is bogus. (Even if it IS bogus, you don’t want to make it easy for the opposition to prove that before even getting to the facts of the case.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Free speech for me but not for thee

I wonder how many of stockman’s supporters were outraged and screamed ‘FREE SPEECH’ when Phil Robertson was suspended from duckface dynasty*, only to fall silent here

*sorry, but your private employer taking action against you for saying inflammatory things is not a free speech issue

JMT says:

“I may have been in jail a couple of times, two or three times…”

May have? Two or three times? Could he be more weasely?

I’d say for most people, going to jail is a significant enough event in their lives that they remember quite well whether or not it happened, and whether it happened two times or three times. It’s safe to assume he has definitely been to jail three times.

Mal says:

Goofy as this is, there’s common law precedent for it. Well, not in the US, but in UK libel law. The “truth defense” had very little standing until 2014. In most of the cases listed here:

the allegations had considerable merit but plaintiffs won anyway, with significant financial awards.

A reform that took effect at the beginning of this year has finally brought UK law partly into line with EU and US standards. Otherwise Rep. Stockman could have venue shopped his defamation case into the London courts. a US lawmaker taking his grievance to Mother England would have been fun to watch.

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