The lawsuit filed last week regarding whether one York County councilman contributed to the campaign of another strikes us as frivolous and counter-productive to good government.
The lawsuit stems from an incident that occurred during a June 1 community forum at Rock Hill's Freedom Center featuring candidates for York County Council. During the debate, one of those candidates, Ashley Martin, who is trying to unseat incumbent District 5 Councilman Curwood Chappell in the Republican primary, accused Chappell of supporting Democrats' campaigns.
When challenged by a moderator to name a specific candidate Chappell had supported, she named Roy Blake, councilman in District 4 and a Democrat. Blake, who attended the forum, stood and denied taking any financial support from Chappell, saying it would have been reported on his campaign disclosure forms if it had occurred.
"That was a blatant lie," Blake said last week. "I feel she needs to prove these accusations."
Blake has filed a lawsuit alleging that Martin's statements insinuated that he had filed false campaign finance information with the State Ethics Commission. He is asking for $100,000 in damages.
Blake, of course, is entitled to question Martin's statement. Martin is obligated, we think, to come up with evidence to support any accusation she might have made or publicly apologize to Blake -- preferably before Tuesday's primary elections.
We have never known Blake to be anything other than an honest, upstanding public official who abides by the campaign laws. But to file a lawsuit over a relatively mild accusation made in the heat of a political campaign and aimed at Chappell, not Blake, strikes us as excessive.
The difficulty of proving that this statement, made by and about public officials in a political context, rises to the level of slander would be enormous. This case appears unlikely to ever come to trial.
Worse, trifling lawsuits like this have a chilling effect on political debate and could even discourage people from entering the political arena in the first place. That it was ever filed is regrettable.
Lawsuit over allegations of political contributions could cast pall on debate.
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