Appeals Court splits decision in Judge Lewis libel case
BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The North Carolina Court of Appeals says a citizen’s blog post two years ago defamed a Brunswick County judge, while another post did not.
Senior Resident Judge Ola Lewis sued Edward Rapp for libel after Rapp claimed online Lewis had acted unethically by supporting then NC Senate candidate Bill Rabon during the 2010 election. Rapp supported Rabon’s opponent Bettie Fennell.
In a post on Facebook and another website on April 9, 2010, Rapp claimed Lewis had violated judicial standards by publicly supporting a candidate. Her lawyer then let Rapp know Lewis was allowed to endorse a candidate, because she was a candidate herself running for reelection.
A trial court and the appeals court ruled while Rapp’s initial claims may have been false, his intent was not to provide false information with malice.
The appeals court, though, disagreed with the trial court on a second claim of libel. On April 12, 2010, Rapp posted another blog apologizing for his error, but made more assertions about Lewis and left out key information, the justices ruled, that showed he had acted with malice to intentionally provide false information.
“Of course I am very grateful for the Court’s ruling,” Judge Lewis said in a statement to WWAY. “However, since the case is ongoing, I am prohibited from further comment as provided by the Judicial Code of Conduct for the State of North Carolina.”
Rapp says the blog that started it all had nothing to do with Lewis.
“It had to do with dirty politics used by Bill Rabon,” Rapp said in a phone interview with WWAY. “I never used her name. I think based on what they said the first time, in my opinion, she was not at that point involved in the election that we were talking about. She was unopposed in November, but she was not part of the primary process, which is what we were talking about. So in my mind, she was not a candidate.”
Rapp says he was upset that he believed Lewis was behind a move within the Republican Party to block a debate between Fennell and Rabon.
“It was about Bill Rabon manipulating the process,” Rapp said. “It had nothing to do with (Lewis). I had no malicious intent against her. My intent was to point out that the party machine was doing something to prevent… because he couldn’t debate (Fennell).”
Rapp says as far as he is concerned, he is innocent. He says he will talk with his attorney to decide whether to appeal the ruling.
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