A Woodbury County state Senator is appealing a ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court that threw out a judgment in his favor in a defamation case. Republican Rick Bertrand sued after the Democrat party ran an ad that said the pharmaceutical company Bertrand worked for sold sleeping pills to children.
The Iowa Supreme Court concluded the evidence failed to establish actual malice toward Bertrand and threw out a $231,000 award. Jeana Goosmann is representing Bertrand. “The Iowa Supreme Court applied an unreasonably high standard for defamation and liable in a political action case. And it’s really important to him that truth of information be front and center in balance with the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution,” Goosmann says.
Bertrand had confronted his opponent, Democrat Rick Mullin at a forum and asked him to stop running the ad. The Iowa Supreme Court ruling says Bertrand also used the forum and the subsequent filing the defamation lawsuit to score political points and seize the public moment as a means to achieve a political advantage.
Goosmann says they disagree. “Rick Bertrand in this case is really on the side of right. The jury did find that there was defamation, there were lies being purposely told about him in the campaign, and we think it should be up to a jury to make that decision,” Goosmann says. “We thought it was interesting that the Iowa Supreme Court did not the venue, that he did decide to file a lawsuit. But in the United States, that is your venue. If you have a wrong, you are supposed to take it to the judicial system. For them to insinuate that using the judicial system is a political stunt when he won the election and went all the way — I believe over a year-and-a-half later — to a jury that found he was in the right, just seems in the opposite to us. People should be encouraged to go to our courts when they’ve been wronged.”
The justices have the option of hearing the case or letting the Iowa ruling stand. “We think we have a fairly good chance that the United States Supreme Court will look at this issue,” Goosmann says. “The court has the chance in this case to set the standard as far as what is the standard for libel and defamation in politics and make it a very clear standard — especially when we are dealing with defamation by implication.” Goosmann says some of the justices have given an indication recently that this is a subject they are interested in taking up.