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Did a Facebook post libel an elected judge? NC jury to decide

Posted Jan 22, 2013 6:25 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Ola M. Lewis, an elected judge in Brunwick County, N.C., wore a campaign button for a state senate candidate and was criticized about it on Facebook by Edward Rapp, who served as a media strategist for the senate candidate’s opponent. Rapp maintains that his post, titled “Dirty Politics by the good ol boys,” was protected political speech.

Lewis said it was libel and sued. After being in litigation since 2010, a jury trial is expected to begin Wednesday, the StarNews Online reports.

A trial judge dismissed Lewis’ suit in 2011. But in 2012, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed in part and remanded in part (PDF), finding that the question of actual malice and damages in the second of Rapp's two blog posts should be decided by a jury.

In his first post, which also appeared on Carolina Talk Network, Rapp wrote that a sitting judge campaigning for a candidate has violated the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct. The regulation does allow judges running for re-election to endorse another candidate seeking office. and Rapp maintains that he didn’t know Lewis was running for re-election when he published the first post. In a follow-up post, Rapp acknowledged his errors of fact but asserted that in his opinion, based on his reading of the code, there was probable cause for disciplinary action against Lewis.

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