Alexandria, VA — Yesterday, a federal court in Mississippi dismissed an$85 million lawsuit filed by GreenTech Automotive accusing the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity and Watchdog.org Virginia bureau chief Kenric Ward of defamation and business interference.
“I stand behind our work and had no doubt that GreenTech’s claims would be dismissed,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center. “We’ve always believed this lawsuit was merely an attempt to silence the press in an election year. We will remain committed to reporting the truth and exposing waste, fraud and abuse.”
In December 2012, Watchdog.org began a investigation series on Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his ties to GreenTech Automotive, the “green” car manufacturing company he founded. Watchdog.org then published two articles detailing McAuliffe’s connection with GreenTech, where he had formerly served as chairman. Shortly after publication of those articles, GreenTech filed a lawsuit accusing the Franklin Center and Watchdog.org of defamation, claiming that it lost $85 million in investment capital after the articles were published.
“There’s no denying that defending the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of our reporters has been costly to us in terms of time, people and money,” Stverak said, “but it’s hard to put a price on defending the Constitution.”
GreenTech chose to sue in Mississippi, where the company says it is building an assembly plant. However, GreenTech, its financial arm Gulf Coast Funds Management, and Franklin Center are headquartered in Northern Virginia. The court ruled that the lawsuit, filed against the Franklin Center should not have been filed in Mississippi because the two stories at the center of the suit were focused on Gov. McAuliffe.
“The articles were aimed at McAuliffe and his bid to become Governor of Virginia, and McAuliffe sustained the ‘brunt of the harm’ of the published articles while GreenTech allegedly suffered from the residuary effects of the articles,” said Judge Michael P. Mills.
The judge further noted that Watchdog’s “articles were not aimed at Mississippi” or even GreenTech itself.
“We believe the court’s decision underscores the necessary — and constitutional — role of a press that’s free to investigate the activities of government in America,” said Will Swaim, vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center.
More details about the case are detailed here.
For more information, please contact Michael Moroney at Michael.Moroney@FranklinCenterHQ.org
The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity is a leader in non-profit journalism. It was founded in 2009 to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training and assistance with a mission of exposing waste, fraud, and abuse in government.