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Republican Buck Newton files lawsuit against N.C. Sen. A.B. Swindell

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Geoffrey Cooper

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Republican N.C. Senate District 11 candidate Buck Newton filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against his midterm election opponent N.C. Sen. A.B. Swindell. Newton contends that Swindell has falsely accused him of being arrested and charged with felony drug charges more than 20 years ago.

The lawsuit, which was filed by Raleigh law firm Shanahan Law Group, PLLC, in N.C. Superior Court in Wilson County, also includes Swindell’s ad campaign and the N.C. Democratic Party.

Newton, a Wilson attorney and businessman, said the lawsuit was filed over a mailer, paid for and circulated by the N.C. Democratic Party with Swindell’s approval, that claims official court documents show Newton was arrested on eight felony drug counts.

Newton told the Rocky Mount Telegram on Wednesday that the charges stemmed from a case of mistaken identity and were dropped. Documents Newton provided from the Watauga County District Attorney’s office appeared to support his explanation.

Newton has requested a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction on the defendants that would require Swindell’s campaign and the N.C. Democratic Party to mail a retraction notice of the accusations to every resident who received the mailer – many of whom live in Nash and Wilson counties. Newton’s lawsuit also seeks punitive damages.

“Tragically, this case illustrates the absolute worst in bitter, underhanded, partisan gutter politics,” Shanahan Law Group attorney Kieran Shanahan said in a release. “Dirty political tactics like this are the reason so many North Carolinians are disgusted with the political process. Mr. Swindell’s attack mailer is nothing short of despicable, and it must not be allowed to stand unchallenged.”

In the introduction of his complaint, Newton states that it is the dishonesty and “dirty tricks” from politicians such as Swindell that keeps residents from running for public office.

“In politics, it is fair to strike hard blows, but not foul blows,” Newton stated. “Defendants’ actions show that they will go to any lengths, including publishing outright lies, to destroy any opponent.”

The complaint states that on Sept. 3, Newton became aware of telephone ads from Swindell’s campaign that were informing potential voters in Nash and Wilson about the false drug claims. The complaint further states that Newton asked his attorney to contact Paul Blake, an attorney and mutual friend of Swindell and Newton, to try and arrange a meeting with Swindell and his representatives about the falsehood of the drug allegations.

The complaint further states Blake contacted Swindell and the defendants to inform them of the fact that Newton’s drug charges were dropped and that Newton wanted to meet with him. Swindell declined. In a June 1999 affidavit, an assistant district attorney in Watauga County said the drug charges had been dismissed and were a case of mistaken identity.

The public records mockup on the mailer highlights Newton’s full name and suggest that he was arrested and charged with marijuana and cocaine possession. But as the images slightly fade, “dismissed” appears next to each drug charge.

Swindell and the state Democratic leaders have said they will support the records, regardless of the district attorney’s dismissal of the case. N.C. Democratic Party officials said they continue to question the validity of the district attorney’s dismissal forms and how an undercover police officer could confuse Newton with someone else buying narcotics on four separate occasions.

State conservative leaders also have voiced their anger with the content of Swindell’s ads.

N.C. GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer appeared in Rocky Mount on Thursday with other Republican leaders to promote the party’s statewide “100 Days That Will Change North Carolina” tour. Fetzer called the campaign flier “ruthless,” full of “lies,” and said Swindell should apologize and retract the ads.

“I have been in politics for 30 years, and I’ve been through some rough campaigns. ... This is the worst example of political fraud I’ve ever seen. This particular mailer is a despicable desperate act by a lying coward,” Fetzer said. “(Swindell) knew this was false when it went out. He knows it’s false now. ... This ad is more than a mistake. This is not an accident, this is an intentional act of political terrorism.”

In wake of the attacks, Fetzer said that Newton’s victory over Swindell now is a main priority for the N.C. GOP.

Phone calls made to Swindell were not returned by presstime.

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