Sweet Home Alabama

By The Madison County Record | Oct 9, 2005

We’re not sure what’s more pitiful, what Gordon Maag doesn’t believe about free speech or that he does believe his reputation is worth $100 million.

Either or, if the newly-minted Alabamian Maag wants to solidify his reputation as the sorest loser in Southern Illinois election history, he’s on the fast track.

In case you have a life (or are a Cardinals fan) and missed it, last week Maag filed a $110 million defamation lawsuit in U.S. District Court against a host of Illinois business groups, including the owner of this newspaper.

In the suit, Maag claims that during his 2004 run for Illinois Supreme Court, the groups distributed flyers that said, among other things, he was “unfit as a judge,” “unethical,” “lacked integrity,” “was unqualified in his profession,” and “had sold his office for campaign contributions.”

In the estimation of Maag and his attack dog lawyer, Rex Carr, these “statements... were “false, inaccurate, incomplete,.. and erroneous.”

If that sounds like déjà vu all over again, that’s because it is. Maag filed the same lawsuit in state court for his client earlier this year, only to have it summarily dumped by a judge who—unlike this judge turned plaintiff-- had read the U.S. Supreme Court precedent for defamation cases involving public figures.

Even non-lawyers have heard of New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 landmark case establishing that publicly ambitious folks suing for defamation must prove “actual malice.”

Put precisely, this means that even if Maag could prove a statement made about him was untrue, he would then also have to also prove it was made with reckless disregard for the truth; with the express purpose of hurting Maag personally.

"The flyer is clearly capable of innocent construction in that it does not malign Plaintiff personally, but instead appears to be careful to criticize only his decisions and record while in office,” wrote Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Kelley, in throwing Maag’s defamation case out of state court last summer. “Nowhere does the flyer suggest a fraudulent motive or interest on the part of Plaintiff, nor does it besmirch his character as a private citizen."

We recognize that it’s difficult for Madison County Machine guys like Maag to accept criticism or, gasp, actually losing, given their historic dominance of the Metro East courts. After ruling with unfettered impunity for decades, life is tough to accept on the outside.

Of course, when it comes to making a living, old litigators rarely learn new tricks.

"Hopefully if we get the amount of money we should get, others will think twice before they do this,” said Carr in a published report.

Sure they will, Rex.

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