The law prohibits any person from knowingly publishing or disseminating false information about a candidate with intent to harm the candidate’s chances in the election. This enabled an ongoing investigation into the Stein commercial, which focused on untested rap kits held by local law enforcement.
O’Neill’s campaign cited the ad law against Stein’s campaign committee in a September 2020 election board complaint. That led to interviews by board investigators, while the State Bureau of Investigation later spoke to Stein, his campaign staff and a woman in the ad. The plaintiffs called the law overbroad and outdated, saying it failed to protect basic political speech, making it a violation of the First Amendment.
In his order, the Eagles wrote that a temporary injunction was necessary because the plaintiffs and others could be subject to possible criminal prosecution for violating the overbroad criminal defamation statute before a more long-term injunction could be heard. was
The Eagles asked the legal parties to return as soon as possible on August 4 to provide reasons why the order should not be extended to a preliminary injunction.
Before the statute’s constitutionality is closely examined, “the balance of the equities favors the order’s First Amendment protection of the plaintiffs’ and other political candidates’ right to free speech,” he wrote Monday.
Outside attorneys representing the state board and WECDA — Stein’s office would otherwise defend the state law’s constitutionality — urged the Eagles to reject the campaign’s request to block the law’s implementation. In court filings, lawyers questioned why Stein’s campaign and other plaintiffs took so long to challenge the law.
“Plaintiffs now seek to interfere with a state grand jury’s work regarding potential violations of state criminal law that occurred nearly two years ago in 2020,” wrote Joe Zeszotarski, who represents Freeman. Although the Eagles have not issued a blanket ban on enforcing the law, which dates back to at least 1931, a lawyer for Stein’s campaign said he could find no legal record of it ever being enforced before.
Stein’s campaign, the consulting firm that produced the ad, and the woman in the ad wrote that they filed the lawsuit now because “enforcement action” by the Wake DA’s office “seems easy.” Didn’t explain it. The statute of limitations on corruption — punishable by up to 60 days in jail with a fine — is two years. Any charges in the case would be a political blow to Stein, the state’s top law enforcement officer and a potential 2024 gubernatorial candidate.
In a written statement, Stein’s campaign said it was pleased with Monday’s decision and “we look forward to resolving this issue once and for all as soon as possible.”
Freeman recused himself from the investigation, citing close working relationships with both Stein and O’Neill, leaving it to an assistant DA to lead the case. Freeman and the majority of election board members are Democrats.
The ad in question featured a woman who asserted that O’Neill had “left 1,500 rap kits sitting on the shelf” in Forsyth County. O’Neill said at the time that the ad was fake because police agencies, not prosecutors, are responsible for testing kits.
O’Neill said in an emailed statement late Monday that Stein had gone to court “to avoid possible criminal prosecution” and “so that politicians like himself routinely lie to the public without repercussion or punishment.” can.”
The lawsuit called the ad a “remedial political ad” designed to counter O’Neill’s false allegations that Stein had more than 15,000 untested rap kits during his time as attorney general. had failed to act.