LaGRANGE — A Troup County Superior Court Judge on Wednesday declared a West Point blogger committed libel against a former County Commission chairman.
Judge Jack Kirby issued his order in the motion for a partial summary judgment in the civil libel lawsuit filed against Ron McClellan by former Commission Chairman Rick Wolfe.
In the 17-page order, Kirby stated that McClellan had committed libel when he posted to his Facebook page and on the Daily News’ comments section statements such as:
• “Charitable causes are real popular with scammers like Ricky Wolfe” and “that Mr. Wolfe was stealing money, skimming off the top.”
• “…Ricky is only interested in one thing, making sure his Swiss bank account continues to grow with diverted funds.”
• “Our tax dollars are pretty much Ricky’s retirement plan.”
The order also cited McClellan for calling Wolfe in one post a “sleazy piece of crap, a Nazi piece of (expletive).”
In his order, Kirby wrote: “The Defendant (McClellan) knew that he was accusing the Plaintiff (Wolfe) of committing crimes when he published the foregoing statements.”
When Wolfe’s attorney, Tommy Greer, sent McClellan a letter asking him to retract the statements he thought were libelous, McClellan returned it with the words “Kiss my (expletive) Ricky” written in bold across the letter.
According to Georgia law O.C.G.A. §51-5-1, “Libel is defined in Georgia as a false and malicious defamation of another, expressed in print, writing, pictures, or signs tending to injure the reputation of the person and exposing him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”
There were four elements in a cause of action for written defamation:
• A false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff, Wolfe.
• An unprivileged communication — publication — to a third party.
• Fault by the defendant, McClellan, amounting to at least negligence.
• Special harm or “actionability” of the state irrespective of harm.
Kirby found that McClellan had violated all four of the elements when he posted comments to the two Facebook pages.
“The statements made by the Defendant about the Plaintiff are concluded to be false and defamatory as a matter of law,” Judge Kirby wrote in the order. “Because the Plaintiff filed an affidavit swearing that all of the statements made by the Defendant were false and the Defendant presented no evidence in support of their truthfulness.”
The order goes on to say, “The Defendant’s sole defense in this libel case seems to be that he did not intend his words literally, and that his words were merely ‘rhetorical’ and ‘his opinion.’ … the language used by the Defendant was specific, clear, direct and unequivocal in ascribing the crime of theft to the Plaintiff.”
McClellan said that he will appeal.
“Basically, it wasn’t unexpected,” he said. “In less than 24 hours he (Judge Kirby) came up with a 17-page opinion, so my personal opinion is it was already predetermined before I even filed my last paperwork. At this point I’m just waiting to get to the damage-award phase and I will appeal it. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good chance on appeal.”
Calls to Wolfe and his attorney, Greer, of Carrollton-based law firm Greer Jackson Tisinger LLC, on Thursday were not returned as of press time Friday afternoon. A staff member at Greer’s office said he was on vacation.
James Morton is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2154.