A Rare Victory in a Candidate-Candidate Libel Suit:

The Las Vegas Sun reports:

State Sen. Mike Schneider today agreed to pay $150,000 in punitive damages to settle a defamation lawsuit brought by his 2004 election challenger, Danny Tarkanian….

Schneider accused Tarkanian of setting up telemarketing companies that were later found to be running scams and that he turned “state’s evidence” against the telemarketers to avoid being prosecuted.

Tarkanian practiced civil law until 1995 and admitted he helped set up the companies but had no involvement in the day-to-day operations of any of them. He said he was not aware that any of the companies were already engaged in illegal activity at the time that he helped to set up them.

Lief Reid, a former Deputy Attorney General, testified that Tarkanian was not part of the investigation into the companies….

Schneider testified that he relied on his investigator and campaign team for the veracity of the information….

My sense is that such lawsuits by political candidates are quite rare, for several reasons, including that:

  1. The coverage of the lawsuit necessarily repeats the original charges.

  2. It’s hard to prove “actual malice” and therefore the plaintiff will often lose even if he’s right on the substance.

  3. Such lawsuits are very expensive.

  4. Such lawsuits give the defendant an opportunity to conduct discovery that might unearth other things that the plaintiff might not want revealed.

Nonetheless, political candidates are as entitled to protection from false and defamatory statements of fact said with knowledge that they’re false, or reckless disregard of the substantial risk of falsehood, as are other public figures. And presumably the jury concluded that the defendant did indeed know the statements were false, or recklessly disregarded that possibility.

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