National Review Online has joined Fox News contributor Erick Erickson in smearing Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, for using boilerplate legal language in a defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) lawsuit filed on her behalf against a local Fort Worth newspaper nearly 20 years ago.
Earlier this week, Erickson questioned Davis' "mental health" and corresponding suitability for public office after learning about a civil lawsuit her lawyers filed in 1996 in response to disparaging editorials directed at Davis during her unsuccessful run for city council, information he sourced to a website run by the Republican Party of Texas. NRO picked up the story, clumsily characterizing the complaint as "light on subtlety and nuance," without realizing that the language it highlighted are standard legal elements for an IIED claim. From NRO:
Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Fort Worth city council in 1996, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, along with parent companies ABC and Disney, for libel, alleging that the paper's coverage of her campaign had been biased and "demonizing," caused harm to her physical and mental health, and infringed on her "right to pursue public offices in the past and in the future." Davis demanded "significant exemplary damages" in return.
The suit, which was roundly dismissed on three separate occasions after Davis appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, centered on a series of "libelous and defamatory" articles about her candidacy, which, she alleged, were authored "with an intent to inflict emotional distress" and to deny her rights under the First Amendment.
The complaint itself was light on subtlety and nuance, arguing that the paper's conduct "was extreme and outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." As a result of the paper's actions, Davis alleged, she had "suffered and is continuing to suffer damages to her mental health, her physical health, her right to pursue public offices in the past and in the future, and to her legal career" and deserved financial compensation.
Like Erickson, NRO failed to mention the role the Texas GOP played in pushing this 20 year-old non-story. Moreover, it ignores the fact that the suit follows basic pleading practice for this type of personal injury -- any plaintiff claiming IIED would file substantially similar boilerplate language with the court. In fact, plaintiffs who claim IIED must plead an almost identical variation of the "extreme and outrageous ... in a civilized community" phrasing that NRO quoted. This is the sort of thing covered in the first year of law school, or that can be easily discovered on Google. Elementary competence in writing legal complaints on the part of her lawyers doesn't make Davis "crazy or a liar," as Erickson erroneously claimed -- it makes her an average plaintiff.
Right-wing media have relentlessly attacked Davis, including going after her record on reproductive justice and referring to her as "Abortion Barbie." This latest smear based on her purported unsuitability for office due to alleged emotional distress in 1996 demonstrates that, at least in this case, their ignorance is catching up to their viciousness.