Hurt has filed a $1M lawsuit over a campaign ad.

In what strikes me as terrible, terrible timing, Robert Hurt has filed a lawsuit against the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and two C’ville TV stations. He actually filed the suit two weeks ago, but nobody noticed, so it’s becoming public now, on the eve of the election. Here’s the advertisement that’s prompted his lawsuit:

I’m insufficiently familiar with the claims made here to know if they have any veracity (I’d heard about the ad, but never seen it—I dropped my satellite TV subscription back in the spring). The logic of the suit is that the Sierra Club and the LCV paid for the ad, and he’s suing NBC-29 and Virginia Broadcasting/Gray Television because they broadcast it. He wants $740k in compensatory damages and $350k in punitive damages.

There are a few things about this that don’t make sense to me. The first is the legal logic behind filing the lawsuit prior to the election. If he loses tomorrow, it’ll be by a narrow margin. In which case he’d have grounds to pump up those compensatory damages, since he could argue that he didn’t win the seat as a result on the ad. The second is the publicity logic behind filing the lawsuit prior to the election. It’d be one thing if he’d filed this six months ago. But two weeks before the campaign? It looks desperate. The third and most surprising aspect is that he’s filing this lawsuit at all. I’m no expert in first amendment cases, but I’m no slouch, either. Hurt is a public official, meaning that to win a slander case, he’s got to prove actual malice—that is, that all four of the defendants made specific that they knew or strongly suspected were not true. That’s a very, very high bar, one that’s pretty difficult to clear.

Maybe this late hour is simply too late to affect the outcome of this election. In which case, Hurt got plain lucky.

Update: PolitiFact ranks the ad as “barely true.” The facts are true, but their effects have been exaggerated. Hurt received a total of just $2,000 from Virginia Uranium, and over the course of seven years, at that. Also, Hurt went to the senate ethics committee to see if it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote on the bill; they gave him the green light. A political ad in which the facts are true, but their effects are exaggerated? That’s what you call a “political ad.” It ain’t right, but it’s par for the course.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

8 replies on “Hurt has filed a $1M lawsuit over a campaign ad.”

  1. Maybe it was an attempt to quash the video before it could have an impact? Get it off the air in the two weeks before the election by any means necessary?

  2. “he’d have grounds to pump up those compensatory damages, since he could argue that he didn’t win the seat as a result on the ad.”

    Not so sure about that, Waldo. I’d hate to have to argue that any one thing made a difference in an election. The problems of proof of causation are immense.

    On the other hand, Perriello is such a lightweight that I don’t think that will be an issue.

  3. “I’m in Danville right now. Voters here are extremely anti-uranium mining.”

    You met them all, huh? Impressive!

  4. This is just the first wave. If Hurt is elected in a house takeover, trust me, his Party will pimp regulatory litigation at the demand of their Corporate owners, and we can expect yet another attempt to impeach a duly-elected President. John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell will be no match for the moneyed interests and the TeaParty radicals. It’s one of those certain “What for What” deals that the lawyer-boys like to gussy up by saying it in Latin.

  5. Stupid.

    Your third point is most relevant; why file a lawsuit at all? Is this really how you want to be known, as the guy who files lawsuits over political ads? He’s likely to win, so what is the point of harming your reputation further?


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