The Iowa Supreme Court has thrown out a case where a candidate for the Iowa Legislature sued his opponent claiming defamation of character. The case involved the race for a state Senate seat in Woodbury County between Republican Rick Bertrand and Democrat Rick Mullin, both from Sioux City.
The Democrat party came up with an to run against Bertrand that said the pharmaceutical company Betrand worked for sold sleeping pills to children. Democratic officials acknowledged they didn’t know if Bertrand ever sold the drug. Bertrand confronted Mullin during a public forum and asked him to stop running the ad, but he did not. Bertrand won the race and then sued Mullin and the Democrat Party for defamation. The district court awarded Bertrand $231,000.
The Iowa Supreme Court concluded the evidence failed to establish actual malice toward Bertrand. It says the failure to write the advertisement in a way to avoid the false implication that Bertrand sold the drug may have been negligence, but it did not rise to the level of reckless disregard for the truth.
The ruling also says that while Bertrand used the forum to ask Mullin to stop running the add, he also used the forum and the subsequent filing of a defamation lawsuit to score political points and seize the public moment as a means to achieve a political advantage. It says that objective undermined Bertrand’s argument that Mullin’s failure to stop running the advertisement in response to his actions showed reckless disregard for the truth.
See the ruling here: Bertrand ruling PDF