North Carolina attorney general fights campaign ad probe




  • In Politics
  • 2022-08-17 21:35:06Z
  • By Associated Press
 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The campaign committee for North Carolina's Attorney General Josh Stein asked a federal court on Wednesday to block enforcement of a seldom-used libel law as the committee faces possible criminal prosecution for a political ad from Stein's last race.

Under fire for the TV ad targeting his 2020 Republican challenger, Stein's campaign filed a motion asking the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to grant a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the law.

Dating to at least 1931, the law makes it illegal to deliberately disseminate a false "derogatory report" that could harm a candidate's chance of election. The campaign's motion comes as a Wake County district attorney prepares to empanel a grand jury in the case.

The motion urged that the district attorney be blocked from enforcing what the campaign called "an overbroad, poorly tailored criminal libel law" while the court assesses whether it violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

Caught between his political prospects and his duty to defend state law, the Democratic attorney general and potential 2024 gubernatorial contender finds himself fighting enforcement of a criminal law he's meant to defend - one that a former political opponent accused his own campaign of violating.

Stein's GOP rival in 2020 - Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill - cited the law in a complaint to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, prompting Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman's office to investigate even after the elections board dropped the case against Stein's campaign committee in 2021.

"The District Attorney for Wake County, NC, is threatening to enforce a criminal libel law in a way that curtails public debate and undermines the integrity of the democratic process in North Carolina," Stein campaign attorney Pressly Millen wrote.

The O'Neill campaign has argued Stein's commercial, which accused the Republican of letting more than a thousand rape kits go untested, was libelous because police rather than prosecutors are responsible for testing rape kits.

The misdemeanor for violating the law carries a penalty of up to 60 days in jail with fines, but someone with an otherwise clean criminal record would avoid serving time if convicted.

Stein also filed an emergency motion Wednesday asking the appellate court to decide the case by Friday "because grand jury proceedings are imminent."

His latest legal actions follow U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles' refusal Monday to set aside the law while the Stein campaign and other plaintiffs seek to strike the statute.

Eagles asserts the law is constitutionally permissible because it "criminalizes false defamatory speech about public officials made with actual malice" and allows enough "breathing space" for protected speech.

___

Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/H_Schoenbaum.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Federal appeals court rules against Obama-era DACA policy protecting
Federal appeals court rules against Obama-era DACA policy protecting 'Dreamers'

The appeals court also sent a Biden administration effort to shore up the program back down to a lower federal court for further consideration.

Revised
Revised 'Dreamers' program to get another review by court

A federal appeals court Wednesday ordered a lower court review of Biden administration revisions to a program preventing the deportation of hundreds of...

Ex jail guard going to prison for smuggling drugs, phones to Tri-Cities inmates
Ex jail guard going to prison for smuggling drugs, phones to Tri-Cities inmates
  • US
  • 2022-10-05 00:57:23Z

"Law enforcement will not tolerate the very few who dishonor their badge ....," said U.S. Marshal Craig Thayer.

Belleville man convicted of using
Belleville man convicted of using 'dark web' to get illegal drug from Europe
  • US
  • 2022-10-04 22:39:34Z

A U.S. Justice Department report states "the dark web has emerged as an important hub of criminal commerce, a fully functional marketplace where hidden...

Prosecutor balks at delay, says ex-Chester County sheriff should go to prison
Prosecutor balks at delay, says ex-Chester County sheriff should go to prison
  • US
  • 2022-10-04 19:54:26Z

Federal prosecutor wants Alex Underwood sent to prison by next week.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Politics