By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Sen. Stacey Campfield has given a deposition in which he is unapologetic for posting false information about a Democratic candidate on his blog, dismissive of the possibility of paying damages for that and belittling of the technological skills of fellow lawmakers.
Campfield, a Knoxville Republican, is the defendant in a $750,000 libel lawsuit brought by Roger Byrge for falsely stating on his blog in the weeks before the 2008 general election that the Democrat had a criminal record. Byrge lost the state House race to Republican Chad Faulkner by fewer than 400 votes, 8,321 to 7,930.
Campfield, in a deposition attached to a court filing last week, said he would be unlikely to pay any damages, noting that he earns about $30,000 a year.
“Like I’ve got any money to give it even if you win,” Campfield said in the deposition taken in April 2011.
“Go right ahead,” he said. “I mean, I can show you my tax returns. If you think you’re going to get money out of me, it’s laughable.”
Campfield’s attorneys have filed motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that he had no reason to believe the information was inaccurate when the blog post was published.
A hearing on that motion is scheduled for April 24. If it doesn’t succeed, the case is scheduled to go to trial in June. His attorney declined to comment beyond the filings in the case.
Campfield is a highly visible lawmaker who often draws attention and sometimes ridicule for sponsoring contentious bills on social issues, including one ridiculed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and another that would cut welfare benefits to parents whose children aren’t doing well in school.
Campfield’s blog post from October 2008 said he had been told that a “mail piece has gone out exposing Byrge’s multiple drug arrests.” He went on to say that the candidate had been arrested for drug possession and dealing.
“I hear the mug shots are gold,” Campfield wrote on the blog.
It was later determined that the arrest record belonged to Byrge’s son, not the candidate.
Campfield maintained in the deposition that he was just repeating information he had received from House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin. Casada and the state Republican Party were also sued by Byrge but settled the case to undisclosed terms.
“I did not say those things,” Campfield said in the deposition. “Glen Casada said those things.”
Pressed by Byrge’s attorney, David Dunaway, about whether he was sorry he had published the comments on his blog, Campfield said: “I’m sorry Glen Casada was mistaken in his report, yes.”
Casada said in court filings that he did not intend for Campfield to post the information on the blog before it was confirmed. But Campfield said he didn’t feel a responsibility to verify what he had been told by Casada.
“If you want to say Glen was reckless, I guess you could say that,” Campfield said.
Campfield said he was contacted by Mark Goins, a former Republican state representative from Lafollete, to inform him that the candidate had been confused with somebody else.
Goins was named state election coordinator after Republicans gained a majority in the General Assembly in the 2008 election. A spokesman said Goins declined to comment on his role in advising Campfield because of the ongoing litigation.
Campfield said he was also advised not to publish a clarification or correction on his blog, just to take down the post.
Asked who had given him that advice, Campfield replied: “I believe it was Mark Goins, but I couldn’t swear to that.”
Campfield was asked in the deposition whether he has “a right to disparage or demean, or to call someone a criminal when that statement’s not true.”
Campfield answered: “I believe legally, probably, there is the right to do that because I’ve had it happen to me.”
He was later challenged on whether there are limits to what he could publish.
“You can do anything,” Campfield responded. “That’s freedom of speech. The newspaper reports on things that I do all the time.”
Campfield also shrugged off a question about whether his blog has a big impact among fellow lawmakers.
“I doubt that,” he said. “Most of them don’t even know how to turn on a computer.”