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.

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  • Bruce Fein & David Saltzman

    Modern Esquire refuses to acknowledge that the Ohio Elections
    Commission has already determined that Krikorian published malicious
    lies, not opinions, about Schmidt, including the false factual
    assertion that she took money from the Government of Turkey. He
    further exposes his ignorance of the law in attributing to the Ohio
    Supreme Court, not the U.S. Supreme Court, the rule that opinions as
    opposed to facts cannot be the foundation of a defamation suit in
    Gertz v. Welch (1974).

    Also contrary to the Modern Esquire's assertion, Schmidt's punitive
    damage claim is routine, not “unique,” and well within the
    constitutional boundaries of recovery demarcated by the Supreme Court
    in State Farm v. Campbell (2005).

    Modern Esquire stumbles again in wrongly declaring that the findings
    of administrative agencies in adjudicative proceedings, including the
    Ohio Elections Commission, are not conclusive in subsequent court
    litigation. The Supreme Court held the opposite in University of
    Tennessee v. Elliott (1986).

    What Modern Esquire has published is both journalistically corrupt and legally flawed.

    Bruce Fein
    &
    David Saltzman

    Attorneys for Congresswoman Jean Schmidt

  • modernesquire

    I don't know how I refused to acknowledge something I stated in the post. The standard in the OEC is different from the standard of common law slander. Sorry, guys it is.

    And actually, while you are correct to assert Gertz, you are incorrect in stating that State law does not go further than Gertz. Perhaps if you read the Ohio Supreme Court's decisions in Scott v. News-Herald (1986), 25 Ohio St.3d 243; Wampler v. Higgins (2001), 93 Ohio St.3d 111, 119, citing Vail v. Plain Dealer Publishing Co. (1995), 72 Ohio St.3d 279, you'd learn that the Ohio Supreme Court has held that Ohio's constitutional provides an independent source of protection for opinion that is separate from the protection afforded in Gertz.

    University of Tennessee v. Elliott is a case in which an administrative state agency was asked to rule on a Title VII Civil Rights Act discrimination claim. The Court held that an Administrative Law Judge's ruling on the Title VII claim could be a basis of stare decisis to bar a person from filing the same complaint in federal court because in both instances the proceedings were determining the same question of law and the statute specifically gave the State's ALJ authority to adjudicate the matter. Equating a case where an ALJ with statutory authority to do so, determined a legal question on a federal statute that was subsequently raised again in federal court to an administrative body (not made up of ALJs), who heard a question of statutory law, and then claiming it acts as stare decisis on matter of common law in a subsequent civil action is apples and oranges from one another.

    In other words, Elliott has no applicability to Schmidt's case. The Ohio Elections Commission does not have jurisdiction to determine whether Krikorian, personally, committed the common law tort of libel. It was deciding whether his campaign committed a statutory violation.

    The Ohio Elections Commission is not an ALJ. Furthermore, they are not charged, by law, to determine common law issues. This is the execlusive jurisdiction of the judiciary.

    There seems to be no legal authority in Ohio that a determination by the OEC has any weight in a subsequent civil action for common law defemation. Absent such authority and given the difference in the parties and legal issues presented, I stand by my legal analysis. Given that you could cite no Ohio legal authority for your proposition, which is a matter of state common law, I think you protest too much.

    Fine, your pleading for punitive damages is boilerplate (but I still think is rather inapplicable given that the statements and conduct towards your client have clearly already stopped.) The reality is that like all other boilerplate punitive damages claims, it's highly unlikely to be successful.

    I'd also note that you did not offer any explanation or response that Congresswoman Jean Schmidt would appear to have no actual damages and that her $500k per claim seems to be nothing more than pleading puffery that would seem to be in violation of Civ. R. 8(A). Furthermore, I fail to see any thing that would justify the compounding of your client's alleged damages per alleged defemation statement when most, if not all, statements were made within the same act.

    Lastly, I do pray you are not charging Congresswoman Schimdt for responding to a blogger.

  • Aram_ga

    Krekorian is right.Check you tube about the turkish lobby.Type” Sibel Edmonds” and you'll not believe who rep Schmidt is.

  • Pingback: OH-02: Krikorian files compelling ethics case against Congresswoman Jean Schmidt()

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