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Voters wrongly accused of fraud cannot sue for defamation, NC court says

Credit: iStock

by Lynn Bonner, NC Newsline
May 23, 2024

Individuals and law firms making false claims of fraudulent voting cannot be sued for defamation,  the NC Supreme Court ruled Thursday. 

The state Supreme Court’s five Republican justices ruled unanimously that people and entities bringing election protests enjoy “absolute privilege” that protects them from defamation lawsuits. 

The case stems from false claims of double voting in 2016 after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in a close election.

Brunswick and Guilford County residents filed election protests after talking with attorneys with the law firm the Pat McCrory Legal Defense Fund hired. The lawyers worked with Guilford County resident William Clark Porter IV and Brunswick County resident Joseph Agovino to submit election protests on their behalf alleging that voters in those counties had cast ballots in North Carolina and in other states. 

The Guilford Board of Elections dismissed Porter’s protest due to lack of evidence. Agovino withdrew his protest before the Brunswick elections board made a decision. 

Voters who said they were defamed by the false allegations of fraud sued Porter, the Pat McCrory Legal Defense Fund, the law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, and four of its lawyers. Holtzman Vogel has offices in Virginia, Washington, DC, Florida, and Arizona.

The defamation lawsuit cannot go forward, said the Supreme Court decision released Thursday. 

The protection against defamation claims covers those who “research, assess, strategize, approve, facilitate, prepare, direct, file, or prosecute election protests,” said the decision written by Chief Justice Paul Newby. 

People involved in judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings must be able to communicate freely without fear of defamation suits, it says. 

The court’s two Democratic justices did not participate in the case. They both previously worked at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented the voters. 

Voters who were wrongly accused of fraud said in a statement that the court decision sends a message that “our lives and livelihoods do not matter in this state” and that “powerful outsiders can meddle in our elections without facing any consequences.”  

Jeff Loperfido, chief counsel for voting rights at Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement the decision opens the door for losing politicians to spread defamatory claims after an election to see if they’ll stick.  

“The ruling today is disappointing for many reasons, but most importantly because these voters were used by politicians as pawns in disturbing acts of political gamesmanship — they were accused of crimes and their reputations marred, for simply exercising their right to vote, and this confirms there will be no accountability for those in power who knew better,” his statement said.

Read the full Supreme Court ruling here.

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This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.