Judge denies commissioners cases following recall petition

Senior District Judge Charles Thompson ruled to dismiss the defamation case filed by County Commissioner John Lampros while dismissing four of seven allegations filed by Commissioner Mike Lemich against Cheryl Noriega, James Adams and Timothy McGowan.

Noriega, Adams and McGowan filed a petition to recall against Lampros and Lemich earlier this year but failed to garner enough signatures before its October deadline passed. Thompson cited the anti-SLAPP statute (strategic lawsuit against public participation) in his ruling in both Lemich’s and Lampros’ defamation suit.

The statute defines a SLAPP lawsuit as a “meritless suit filed primarily to chill the defendant’s exercise of First Amendment Rights” from the case John v Douglas County School District. Under the statute, three types of good-faith communications made in furtherance of the right to petition remain protected:

1. Communication that is aimed at procuring any governmental or electoral action, result or outcome.

2. Communication of information or a complaint to a legislator, officer or employee of the Federal Government, this state or a political subdivision of this state, regarding a matter reasonably of concern to the respective governmental entity.

3. Written or oral statement made in direct connection with an issue under consideration by a legislative, executive or judicial body, or any other proceeding authorized by law, which is truthful or made without knowledge of its falsehood.

4. The defendants contended that all statements contained in the recall petition are true or, if false, were grounded upon good-faith.

Lampros filed his defamation case, stating the trio of individuals and the Ely Jet Center made “oral and written defamatory statements, which resulted in harm to his reputation in the community.”

In Thompson’s ruling in Lamrpos’ defamation case, Thompson said the defendants met their initial burden of production and persuasion that their communication was in good faith and in furtherance of their right to petition, shifting the burden of production to Lampros. Judge Thompson wrote in his decision that Lampros failed to prove his case.

“In the opinion of this court, the anti-SLAPP statute applies to the defendant’s communications, which were good-faith communications in furtherance of the right to free speech as defined by NRS 54.637. Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of production and persuasion.”

In Lemich’s defamation case, Lemich contested that the defendants published “defamatory statements about plaintiff filing a notice of intent to recall Mike from his elected office as county commissioner that contained demonstrably false statements of fact, intending to impute criminal acts to Mike.”

Thompson dismissed Lemich’s defamation lawsuit against allegations that statements saying Lemich was responsible for a financial disaster in the White Pine County budget, that Lemich’s mismanagement was responsible for White Pine County’s financial difficulties, that Lemich intimidated and threatened citizens, which would be a crime if true and that Lemich was under investigation by law enforcement for theft…several state and local investigations, were false and defamatory. Thompson also dismissed Lemich’s defamation suit against allegations that he dismantled the County and Fire EMS,

Thompson denied motions to dismiss Lemich’s defamation suit against allegations stating that Lemich was under investigation theft…several state and local investigations, that Lemich negotiated land exchanges for the County when Lemich had a conflict and that Lemich had a personal vendetta against the private operator at the airport and members of the airport board and engaging in accusations, intimidation, lies and threats against both the operator and their customers.

Lemich had 20 days after receiving a copy of the filed order to file a Second Amended Complaint with allegations consistent with this decision. If filed, the defendants will then have 20 days to file an answer.

A copy of Judge Thompson’s ruling is available at the White Pine County Clerk’s office located on Campton Street.

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