The United States Justice Foundation has joined the defense team in the $165 million lawsuit brought against WorldNetDaily, reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays, and other defendants, by Tennessee Democratic Party official and Al Gore crony Clark Jones.
The California-based non-profit, public-interest legal foundation – which regards the defamation lawsuit against WND as a First Amendment case of national significance — has taken on the defense of Thompson and Hays, the reporters who authored an 18-part investigative series on Gore during the final months of last year’s tumultuous presidential election season.
Clark Jones, a Savannah, Tenn., car dealer and former Tennessee State Democratic Party official, raised more than $100,000 for Gore’s campaign. According to sources close to Jones, he was stung by the comprehensive WorldNetDaily series, which among other things reported that Jones had allegedly been under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation as a drug dealer. Jones vehemently denied dealing drugs, but TBI deputy director Ed Holt confirmed that such an investigation had taken place.
Sources say Jones, who frequently bragged to other Tennessee businessmen about his close links to Gore, was humiliated by Gore’s loss of his home state, which cost Gore the election. The Thompson and Hays series on Gore and his cronies, including Jones, arguably played a significant factor in Gore’s loss, according to some Tennessee political observers.
Jones, aided by attorney and fellow high-profile Democratic Party activist J. Houston Gordon, filed the suit last spring.
A hearing is scheduled for today in the Hardin County (Tenn.) Courthouse, where the suit was initially filed, to deal with the U.S.J.F.’s motion on behalf of Thompson and Hays requesting that Circuit Judge Julian P. Guinn recuse himself from the case. The motion was filed by Thompson and Hays’ local counsel, Sam Cole, who is working in conjunction with the U.S.J.F.
The issue at hand, explains U.S.J.F. attorney Richard Ackerman, is a potential conflict of interest involving Guinn.
Years ago, Guinn represented Clark Jones’ mother, Joanne Jones, during a highly contested divorce, and championed the interests of Clark, then a minor, in the ensuing custody battle. At the time, Joanne Jones requested restraining orders to prevent her exposure to “physical harm,” and asked that Clark Jones’ father be prohibited from making off with any of the family’s assets.
The current case, revolving as it does around alleged damage to Clark Jones’ reputation, necessarily brings onto center stage Jones’ reputation and character as key issues, and thus Guinn’s former judicial relationship with Jones and his mother may adversely impact the appearance of objectivity in the defamation case, the defense contends.
“This motion is about preserving the appearance of neutrality for all of the litigants involved in the case,” said Ackerman.
Also named as defendants in the $160 million case against WorldNetDaily, Thompson and Hays, are: Rebecca Hagelin, WND’s vice president for communications, five John Does and five Jane Does, the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., WSIB-AM in Selmer, Tenn., the Decatur County Chronicle, WTVF Newschannel 5 in Nashville, the Savannah Snitch, the Savannah Journal, Larry Brinton, a commentator for WTVF and H.J. Maxedon of Selmer.
At least some of the defendants have no idea why they are being sued.
For instance, one defendant, Ron Shank of Optimus Media in Savannah, Tenn., had no involvement with the WorldNetDaily series at all, but simply designed the website of the Savannah Journal, a local Tennessee newssite that merely linked to the WND stories. Shank is not now, nor has he ever been, involved or even privy to the editorial process at the Journal or WorldNetDaily.
“My connection to the Journal is so tenuous,” said Shank, “that their [Jones and Gordon] actions are akin to suing the man that installed your cable TV line for slander because of something Rush Limbaugh said about you on television.”
The U.S. Justice Foundation brought a motion for summary judgment asking that Shank be removed as a defendant in the lawsuit. “Essentially,” said Ackerman, “he has no proper place in this case at all.”
WorldNetDaily and Hagelin are represented in the case by Memphis attorney Larry Parrish.
WorldNetDaily Editor and CEO Joseph Farah, referring to the large number of defendants named, said, “This lawsuit is the legal equivalent of a drive-by shooting.” And calling it a transparent attempt at revenge, Farah characterized the case this way: “I don’t think it’s an accident that the No. 1 independent Internet newssite was targeted by powerful and wealthy friends of the losing presidential candidate – and that the suit pertained to an investigative series that may well have cost that candidate the Electoral College votes he needed for victory.”
Readers wishing to make donations to help offset the enormous legal costs involved in the defense of this high-profile First-Amendment case may make a tax-deductible donation directly to the U.S. Justice Foundation.
Alternatively, donations can be made (but not tax-deductible) to WND’s Legal Defense Fund online, by calling WND toll-free at 1-877-909-1776, or by mailing a check, made payable to WorldNetDaily Legal Defense Fund, to: WorldNetDaily.com, Inc., P.O. Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523.