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Editorial - Thomley’s lawsuit

Posted: June 19, 2014 2:05 p.m.
Updated: June 20, 2014 5:00 a.m.

When people decide to run for public office -- to hold themselves up to scrutiny among voters -- they are in effect saying they’re willing to subject themselves to the kind of comment, investigation and criticism that private citizens can avoid. That’s what David Thomley did on two occasions, running for sheriff four years ago and then again this year. So we find it curious that two days after being soundly defeated by incumbent sheriff Jim Matthews, Thomley filed a $2-million libel/slander suit charging he’d been defamed by comments Matthews made during an investigation at Camden Military Academy. We wonder, also, if the suit would have been filed if Thomley had won the election.

In a landmark legal ruling decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to prove libel against a public official, the person suing must establish that statements were made with malice and in reckless disregard of the truth. Thomley’s suit charges just that against Matthews. We aren’t lawyers, of course, but it seems that statements made between two people who campaigned against each other takes the concept even a step further. If every argument between two political foes resulted in a lawsuit, the courts would be clogged, indeed.

Complicating the situation is the fact that former Sheriff Steve McCaskill, for whom Thomley worked, had previously sued Matthews in a similar action. That one ended in a minor settlement for McCaskill. Settling suits often saves money. This is one in which we’d like to see the case go to a jury and let the citizens decide whether Thomley’s case has merit or not.

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