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Ellsworth Attorney Files Libel Complaint Against GOP Group

Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Written by Jennifer Osborn of The Ellsworth American

ELLSWORTH — An Ellsworth attorney Tuesday filed a complaint in federal court against the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) alleging the organization libeled Democratic Senate candidate Jim Schatz in advertisements that falsely said Schatz voted to cancel a Fourth of July fireworks display in Blue Hill.

This flier is one of several that attorney Barry Mills says libeled Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz during his Senate bid. Mills filed a federal lawsuit charging libel against the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is based in Virginia.

“The average amount of money spent on a Senate campaign is $23,000,” said attorney Barry Mills of the law firm Hale & Hamlin. “These people spent almost $70,000” just to oppose Schatz. “It’s a pretty sorry example of how they buy legislatures.”

Records from the Maine Ethics Commission show that on Oct. 22, the RSLC spent $398,970 to influence five races for the Maine Senate. Most of the money was spent to oppose Democratic candidates with smaller amounts to support Republican candidates.

Schatz lost the race to Republican Brian Langley.

The attack ads show children anguished because “Jim Schatz canceled Fourth of July fireworks.” In fact, Schatz, who is a Blue Hill selectman, was the only selectman on the three-member board to vote in favor spending money for a fireworks display.

The ads also showed an outraged, screaming man who “just found out Jim Schatz used taxpayer money to make a political contribution.”

Actually, the “political contribution” the attack ad cites was the town of Blue Hill’s contribution to the effort to derail state-mandated school consolidation.

“I hope to make people aware and them aware that there has to be a line,” said Mills.” Spending unlimited amounts of money to elect whoever they wish and there’s nothing a local candidate can do about it — that’s crossing a line. Then we cease to be a democratic society. We become a plutocracy.”

Mills thinks he has a strong libel case. The negative advertisements at issue reference articles in the Bangor Daily News and the Kennebec Journal, Mills said. Those articles do not support the accusations. Mills is seeking a jury trial to determine an appropriate amount of compensation.

In addition to the Republican State Leadership Committee, Mills names six other businesses as defendants: Crossroads Media, Arena Communications; Ohman Holdings, Valcarce Holdings, Arena Holdings and The Grassy Knoll.

“They have 30 days from Monday to respond. Then they have 60 days to answer the complaint,” said Mills, adding it would likely be the end of March before the case is ready to go forward.

Reporter James Straub contributed to this report