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.”
Gov. Bill Haslam won’t have to face a court deposition as part of a lawsuit filed by Occupy Nashville following a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Joe B. Brown on Thursday afternoon, reports The City Paper. But amid the state’s defense against Haslam being deposed, Assistant Attorney General Dawn Jordan told Brown that Haslam had provided incorrect information to the media about the Office of the Attorney General’s involvement prior to the Occupy arrests.
“We had conversations last week that involved General Services, Safety and the Attorney General’s Office was part of the conversations,” Haslam told media on Nov. 4, 2011. “… all those folks were part of the conversations.”
Jordan said that quote was not true — and used the mishap to illustrate how Haslam didn’t have “unique personal knowledge” of the conversations surrounding the implementation of a policy that resulted in the arrests at Legislative Plaza.
When asked for comment, the Governor’s Office told The City Paper it would be inappropriate to comment on Haslam’s interaction with the Attorney General’s Office due to the active lawsuit.
Brown suggested that the Occupy Nashville attorneys didn’t exhaust other methods of legal discovery before requesting to depose the governor. Occupy Nashville will have the opportunity to pose the governor questions through filing interrogatories and requests for admission. Brown said if the answers aren’t satisfactory, Occupy Nashville could request to depose Haslam again.
And while Haslam avoided having to be deposed, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Department of General Services Commissioner Steven Cates will each have to undergo four hours of deposition.
Gov. Bill Haslam and two of his commissioners are refusing to talk on the record with lawyers about how they decided to arrest Occupy Nashville protesters camped on War Memorial Plaza in 2011, reports Andrea Zelinski. In response to a motion by Attorney General Robert Cooper to spare the high-ranking officials from depositions, lawyers representing the protesters are urging a judge to force the trio to share details only they know about deciding on curfew rules that led troopers to make 54 arrest at an Occupy Nashville protest in two midnight police raids.
“The Governor and the Commissioner should not be permitted to make statements freely to the press about their personal knowledge and involvement when it suits their public relations strategy, but in the next breath hide from deposition by claiming high ranking official immunity when they are sued for those very same actions,” read the motion filed by three local ACLU of Tennessee cooperating attorneys who filed the lawsuit for Occupy Nashville. “To do so would be patently unfair.”
Attorneys had originally planned to depose the governor, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and General Services Commissioner Steven Cates by Friday of this week. Cooper pre-empted the depositions by asking for an order of protection, saying the state had already handed over 13,000 pages of documents. Additionally, five state government staffers — including the author of the curfew rules — gave depositions about meetings where decisions over the plaza’s “Use Policy” with a curfew were made.
“There is no evidence at this juncture that the defendants’ depositions would actually be necessary — the discovery can be had, and has been had, by other means,” stated Cooper’s motion from Jan. 2.
Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik failed to appear last week for a legal deposition, though The Tennessean reports that her attorney said she had permission not to be there. Still, lawyers for a Middle Tennessee newspaper publisher have asked a Wilson County judge to weigh a criminal contempt charge after Zelenik did not turn up July 12 to testify in a suit involving the paper’s finances.
Chancellor C.K. Smith responded to the skipped appointment by signing an order requiring Zelenik to appear in court in September to face a potential criminal contempt charge. But Zelenik’s attorney, Lee Davies, says she had permission to miss the deposition because of conflicts with her campaign schedule.
“She did exactly what the judge asked her to do, so I’m at a loss,” Davies said.
The possibility that Zelenik could face a criminal contempt charge — and potential punishment — was first reported Thursday by the Nashville City Paper (and Nashville Post, link HERE). But it’s unclear whether the charge will stand, or even if it was seriously contemplated in the first place.
Zelenik faces punishment even though she appeared at the first date scheduled for the deposition, according to court filings. Zelenik also is not a direct party to the case, a dispute between state Sen. Mae Beavers and Kathryn Belle, publisher of the Macon County Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Lafayette, Tenn.
Beavers and her husband, Jerry, sued Belle in December, saying she owes the couple $50,000 and interest on a loan given to her Main Street Media LLC to buy the newspaper. Belle says the money was an investment in the newspaper.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann testified in a deposition that he never saw some of his own campaign ads before they hit the airwaves, reports Chris Carroll. That despite a federally mandated voiceover joined with each ad: “I’m Chuck Fleischmann, and I approve this message.” In a separate deposition, Chip Saltsman, the freshman congressman’s former campaign consultant and current chief of staff, testified that he approved a Fleischmann ad that included a “created” computer image featuring Tennessee’s state seal superimposed over a nongovernment document.
The national campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, Saltsman also said he never confirmed the validity of confidential documents used in a powerful attack ad against Fleischmann’s chief opponent in 2010’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.
The pair gave depositions in a lawsuit filed in January 2011 by Mark Winslow, the former chief of staff for the Tennessee Republican Party. He sued Fleischmann and Saltsman for defamation, inducement to breach a contract and invasion of privacy and is seeking $750,000 in damages.
Internal Fleischmann campaign details were obtained from depositions the congressman tried to keep secret. In a protective order filed March 29 on behalf of Fleischmann, attorney Brent S. Usery indicated that “2012 is an election year,” adding that the congressman’s testimony would include confidential “campaign strategy, oppositional research and campaign spending decisions.”
A judge denied Fleischmann’s request in May, three months before the congressman’s Aug. 2 Republican primary election against three challengers, including Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp.
Fleischmann campaign spokesman Jordan Powell issued a written statement late Friday.
“This confirms what we’ve said from the beginning — it’s a politically motivated lawsuit designed to attack Congressman Fleischmann at a politically expedient time,” the statement said. “And with it being three weeks before early voting, this proves our point.”
The Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained written transcripts of depositions for Fleischmann and Saltsman, both of which were filed Friday afternoon in Davidson County Circuit Court in Nashville.
While Fleischmann said “I don’t know,” “I wouldn’t know” and “I don’t recall” a few dozen times over the course of a four-hour deposition, the sworn testimony offers a rare glimpse inside his campaign playbook.
U.S. District court documents show that Patrick Smith, the state’s former interim commissioner of education and current deputy commissioner, faced a series of questions from Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade in a deposition taken as part of a federal court lawsuit over moves to merge Memphis City Schools (MCS) into the Shelby County School system, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The questioning was aimed at undermining the state’s categorization of MCS as a special school district.
…Wade and Leo Bearman, an outside attorney for the Shelby County Commission, attempted to elicit testimony from Smith that could back up their argument that MCS should not be considered a special school district. That would mean that a new state law requiring a transition commission could not guide merger of the two school systems.
That state law, known as Norris-Todd, refers specifically to consolidations involving a special school district.
Wade pointed out that the state DOE website calls Memphis a “city” district and that the state comptroller’s website that lists special-school-district taxes for other counties does not do so for Shelby County — a 1925 state law abolished special school districts that do not have taxing authority.
When Wade asked if Smith knew of “any document, any enactment” of the legislature describing MCS as a special school district, Smith stuck to the department’s consistent legal references to attorney general opinions and legislative intent.
“I am not aware personally of the document of the General Assembly that describes it as a special school district,” Smith said. “But I am aware that the General Assembly takes action believing it to be a special school district.”
The current Shelby County Schools board has seven members, all from outside Memphis. SCS contends that as long as the MCS board continues to meet and govern city schools, the city is receiving proper representation relating to the public education of its children.
SCS and the state argue that Norris-Todd provides the best and most sound process to guide the merger.
……As a next step, the Memphis City Council attorneys want U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays to require Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash and board president Martavius Jones to face questions Tuesday.