Congresswoman Jean Schmidt cannot let David Krikorian go. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that she has sued Krikorian for defamation in Clermont County over Krikorian’s 2008 campaign in which he alleged that Schmidt was a denier of the Armenian genocide in Turkey and had accepted “blood money” from the Turkey government for her silence.
These same campaign statements were part of a successful Ohio Election Commission complaint Schmidt filed against Krikorian last year.
The suit, filed last week in Clermont County Common Pleas Court, seeks $6.8 million in compensatory and punitive damages for what it said were false allegations of Schmidt’s “complicity in campaign finance crimes, bribery, perjury, or obstruction of justice.”
Now for the most part, a lawsuit merely only needs to state that it is seeking damages over $25,000. That rule is specifically meant to prevent lawsuit grandstanding by making outrageous financial damages claims that get reported in the media . . . like precisely what Schmidt did here. (She claims each false statement damaged her by $500k a piece) The suit makes what I can only charitably describe as a unique claim for punitive damages of $350k that has a snowball’s chance in Hades.
That and the fact that the suit includes a gratuitous reference to Krikorian being publicly reprimanded by the Hamilton and Clermont County Chairmen before the primary election, over matters wholly irrelevant to Schmidt’s suit screams publicity stunt, but to what ends I do not know. (At best, maybe it was mentioned as showing that Krikorian committed other deplorable acts to justify punitive damages, but it’s really an apple and oranges comparison that I don’t think works at all legally.)
In fact, this lawsuit is likely to backfire on Schmidt as the comments on the Cincinnati Enquirer would seem to indicate.
I don’t think the Ohio Election Commission’s findings are legally binding in a legal action for slander. Schmidt, by the way, is represented by the same attorney who represented her in the Ohio Elections Commission hearings.
The two biggest problems Schmidt is going to have with her lawsuit is proving a) that as a public figure, the falsity of Krikorian’s statements rise to the level of actual malice. In other words that he knew, or a reasonable person should have known, that Krikorian’s statements were false when he made them, but Krikorian made them any for the specific purpose of harming Schmidt.
The second problem is that Schmidt cannot likely show any actual damages. How was Schmidt damaged by statements made in an election… she WON? If Schmidt cannot prove that Krikorian knew his statements were false or recklessly disregarded the truth in making them, then she’s going to have to show actualy damages somehow by Krikorian’s statement. Given that she handily won that election, it’s hard to conceive of a theory of recovery for her.
Finally, in Ohio, the state constitution provides a wider protection for free speech than under the federal constitution. Under the Ohio constitution, matters of opinion are completely protected from libel and slander. I think Krikorian’s statements are so obviously hyperbolic that they were really matters of opinion, not fact. I don’t think he literally meant that Schmidt had accepted blood money but was rhetorically saying she had for accepting money from Turkish PACs which predated her odd decision to join the Congressional Turkish Caucus and oppose legislation recognizing the Armenian genocide.
Remember that Schmidt dismissed several of the grounds of her complaint during the Ohio Elections Commission hearings. Of those she didn’t dismiss, she only prevailed on roughly half of them. However, at no time was it really disputed that Schmidt’s congressional campaign accepted money from Turkish PACs and individuals of Turkish decent.
Krikorian’s central allegation, that Schmidt received PAC money for her stance on the Armenian resolution, is well-grounded despite what the Ohio Elections Commission ruled:
We have a member of Congress from Ohio who is willing to stand up to the Armenian lobby, and it is important for the Turkish community to support her,” a fundraising e-mail from the Turkish Coalition of America said.
Schmidt, though, said that she didn’t ask people why they contributed to her campaigns, declaring her “hope that it’s because they believe I’m a great American.
I don’t know if Krikorian’s flair for exaggeration of the facts is enough to say he acted with actual malice as the term is understood under Ohio’s libel laws. But even if it were, I can’t see Schmidt being awarded punitive damages in this case, nor can I see her being awarded anything beyond nominal damages ($30?), either.
This is a move by Jean Schmidt that just simply seems petty, bizarre, ham handed, and lacking common sense. In other words, par for the course.