RALEIGH — A judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit filed by critics of Republican governor candidate Pat McCrory who wanted their commercials critical of the former Charlotte mayor declared true and constitutionally protected as political speech.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway dismissed the suit brought by North Carolina Citizens for Progress. The suit was filed in the days after the independent group aired ads in May suggesting McCrory improperly lobbied for a real estate and lending business.
McCrory and his campaign committee filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the group was unable to seek a certain kind of judgment to head off potential defamation counter-lawsuits by the campaign. Ridgeway agreed, saying there was disagreement over the facts in the case, which runs counter to the purpose of a declaratory judgment sought by the N.C. Citizens group.
"The plaintiff's claims must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief might be granted," Ridgeway wrote in a six-page order.
The case stemmed from commercials that N.C. Citizens ran raising questions about McCrory's connections to Charlotte-based Tree.com. One ad accuses McCrory of lobbying for the firm while mayor and three years before he joined the company's board. The Democratic Governors Association gave money to the group to air the ad. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, McCrory's gubernatorial rival, isn't involved with N.C. Citizens.
McCrory's campaign threatened legal action against television stations that kept running the first ad because its lawyers argued the ad was false. N.C. Citizens quickly filed a lawsuit seeking a judge's seal of approval for its accuracy and to safeguard the group from future lawsuits during the fall campaign.
N.C. Citizens attorney Michael Weisel said the group was disappointed at the ruling, which he said didn't address the lawsuit's content, and it would consider whether to appeal.
In a statement, Weisel said the lawsuit has still succeeded in stopping "Pat McCrory from bullying media outlets and to expose his threats of legal action as a bluff," but added that the ruling raises questions about the remedies available to other independent political committees.
McCrory campaign spokesman Brian Nick wrote in an email it was no surprise "a silly political stunt was dismissed," and that the campaign would keep focusing on how McCrory would fix "North Carolina's broken government and broken economy."
McCrory's lawyers said in court two weeks ago that the lawsuit was designed to get McCrory deposed and reveal personal finances that N.C. Citizens and others wanted to use against him in the election.