Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / News Stories / Federal judge lets voter intimidation suit continue

Federal judge lets voter intimidation suit continue

Vote voting booth - MAINA lawsuit alleging voter intimidation and defamation by a group which plaintiffs say published false accusations of voter fraud is being allowed to continue after a federal judge denied the defense’s motion to dismiss Aug. 13.

“We appreciate that the court has acknowledged that this case should be allowed to proceed,” said attorney Allison Riggs in a news release. Riggs represents the plaintiffs in the case on behalf of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We are confident that this litigation will ultimately result in a ruling that [this] sort of intimidation and defamation …  harms voters and has no place in our democracy.”

The lawsuit was filed in April by the League of United Latin American Citizens-Richmond Region Council and by four individuals who say they were harmed by accusations of voter fraud.

The information was published by Public Interest Legal Foundation and its leader J. Christian Adams in September 2016.

The four named plaintiffs, all from Virginia, say that the report, titled “Alien Invasion I,” listed them by name and accused them of illegally registering to vote and of voting illegally.

They said in the complaint that they were, in fact, legally registered citizens who had been removed from voting rolls for administrative reasons.

LULAC also alleged that PILF was contacted by Virginia election officials who told them “they were drawing false conclusions from the registrar information and running the significant risk of wrongfully accusing eligible voters of committing felony voter fraud.”

Despite this, the plaintiffs say PILF published the report anyway and shared it with national media outlets. Plaintiffs say that despite many attempts by voting officials in Virginia to inform PILF of the errors, they group published a sequel entitled “Alien Invasion II” in May 2017.

The plaintiffs said the second version also included an appendix containing the personal information of the people accused of voter fraud, including names, addresses and telephone numbers.

The plaintiffs say they suffered from bad publicity, intimidation, embarrassment and fear of harassment, all because they exercised their right to vote. In addition, they claimed violations of the Voting Rights Act, the Ku Klux Klan Act and defamation.

In their request for dismissal, the defense argued that plaintiffs lacked standing, they failed to properly state a claim, and the statute of limitations had passed on a defamation suit over the publication of “Alien Invasion I”.

Additionally, they argued they were immune from prosecution due to Virginia’s anti-SLAPP statute.

Judge Liam O’Grady from the federal district court in Alexandria summarily denied each of the defense’s motions to dismiss.

“Here, all elements of Virginia’s defamation tort are satisfied,” O’Grady wrote in the opinion. “Defendants also fail to show that they conducted even a cursory investigation of the accuracy of the information they obtained from the registrars … Plaintiffs have sufficiently pled that Defendants had constructive knowledge of the falsity of information.”

Citing Dragulescu v. Virginia Union University, the court then went on to say that because “Alien Invasion II” was a continuation of the first publication, the statute of limitations doesn’t apply to “Alien Invasion I” and that Virginia’s Anti-SLAPP statute would only apply if PILF didn’t know that the information was false.

“Plaintiffs sufficiently allege Defendants’ awareness of the risk of the incorrectness of the voter registration data obtained from the county registrars,” O’Grady said.

The federal court’s ruling means that the case will now go to trial.

Cameron Kistler, another plaintiffs’ attorney, working on behalf of the organization Protect Democracy, said the decision will help ensure eligible voters get to utilize their right to vote.

“We are looking forward to this case moving forward so that our clients can have their day in court,” Kistler said.

Michael J. Lockerby, an attorney representing the defendants, did not respond to requests for comment.