The law prohibits anyone from knowingly publishing or disseminating false information about a candidate for the purpose of harming that candidate’s chances in office. This allowed for an ongoing investigation into Stein’s ad, which involved untested rape kits held by local law enforcement.
O’Neill’s campaign cited the law in its September 2020 election committee complaint against Stein’s campaign committee over the ad. This led to interviews with council investigators, while the State Bureau of Investigation then spoke to Stein, his campaign team and a woman who was featured in the ad. Plaintiffs called the law overbroad and outdated and said it failed to protect basic political speech, leading it to violate the First Amendment.
In its order, Eagles wrote that a temporary order was needed because the plaintiffs and others would have faced potential criminal charges for violating an overbroad criminal defamation law before a hearing for an injunction to longer term can take place.
Eagles told the legal parties to return as soon as August 4 to give reasons why the order should not be extended to a preliminary injunction.
Before the law’s constitutionality can be scrutinized, “the balance of actions favors an injunction protecting the First Amendment right of plaintiffs and other political candidates to free speech,” she wrote. Monday.
Outside attorneys representing the state board and the Wake DA — Stein’s office would otherwise defend the constitutionality of a state law — urged Eagles to reject the campaign’s request to block enforcement. of the law. In the court filings, attorneys questioned why Stein’s campaign and other plaintiffs took so long to challenge the law.
Now, the “plaintiffs seek to interfere with the work of a state grand jury regarding potential violations of state criminal law caused by a political advertisement that occurred in 2020, nearly two years ago,” wrote Joe Zeszotarski, representing Freeman. Although the Eagles did not issue a blanket ban on enforcing the law, which dates back to at least 1931, Stein’s campaign lawyer said he found no legal record of its earlier enforcement. .
Stein’s campaign, the consulting firm that produced the ad and the woman in the ad wrote that they are suing now because “enforcement action” by the office of the Wake DA “seems imminent”. He did not specify. The statute of limitations for the offense – punishable by 60 days in prison with a fine – is two years. Any charges in the case would be a political stunt for Stein, the state’s top law enforcement official and a possible 2024 gubernatorial candidate.
In a written statement, Stein’s campaign said it was pleased with Monday’s decision and “we hope this issue will soon be resolved once and for all.”
Freeman backed out of the investigation – citing a close working relationship with Stein and O’Neill – and left it to the assistant DA to handle the case. Freeman and the majority of election committee members are Democrats.
The ad in question featured a woman who claimed that O’Neill “left 1,500 rape kits on the shelf” in Forsyth County. O’Neill said at the time that the ad was fake because police departments, not prosecutors, are responsible for testing the kits.
O’Neill said in a statement emailed Monday night that Stein went to court “to avoid possible criminal prosecution” and “so that politicians like him can routinely lie to the public without repercussion or punishment.”
The lawsuit called the ad “corrective political advertising” designed to counter O’Neill’s false accusations that Stein failed to act on more than 15,000 untested rape kits during his tenure as attorney general.