Can a political candidate be liable for attacking a political rival?

Wendy Rogers /Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

By Kyra Haas | Arizona Capitol Times  

The former employer of a Wendy Rogers political opponent wants the state’s high court to decide whether a political candidate can be liable for defaming a third party while attacking the political rival.

Rogers argues the ongoing litigation leftover from her failed 2018 congressional run is already chilling political speech, and that if it becomes standard for cases like this to go to trial, the chilling effect would be “catastrophic.”

“Allowing a third-party employer of a candidate to sue where truthful statements criticize that candidate would circumvent the First Amendment and chill speech in the most essential area of public discourse,” Rogers’s attorneys, E. Jeffrey Walsh and Dominic Draye wrote to persuade the Arizona Supreme Court to reject the case. 

Also: Finchem’s ethics complaint against Democrats lands in trash  // Texts from Arizona Rep. Finchem raise questions about past statements on U.S. Capitol riot

In a 2018 radio attack ad, then-congressional candidate Rogers went after one of her primary opponents, former state Sen Steve Smith and his job at the Young Agency, a modeling agency that represents models and actors, about half of whom are children. The ad’s narrator said in part that “Smith is a slimy character whose modeling agency specializes in underage girls and advertises on websites linked to sex trafficking.”

On her campaign’s website, www.slimysteve.com, Rogers also stated that Smith “personally advertises on the website, Model Mayhem, a website full of pornographic material, which has also been involved in human trafficking, according to ABC News, and has been reported as having a ‘dangerous history.’”

Smith threatened to sue, and after the election, Pamela Young, owner of the Young Agency, did sue for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. 

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