On Jan. 11, 2010, state Sen. Gail Buckner, a Democrat from Clayton County, wrote a letter to a state court judge in DeKalb County on behalf of Ali Rashad Richey — who was languishing in the county jail.
Richey had been picked up for violating his probation on a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license. On her office stationery, Buckner identified Richey as her employee, a “dependable, respectable, dedicated worker” whom she would be happy to place under her supervision to “help prevent him from getting into any other issues.”
Buckner acknowledged contacting the judge. “I’ve written many letters in support of young people,” she said. “It was an unfortunate situation.” Buckner, who was also about to embark on an unsuccessful statewide campaign for secretary of state, also conceded that — while Richey was behind bars — she still paid him $4,000 a month as her campaign consultant.
We know all of this because, since mid-April, Andre Walker has been dripping out the public records of 30-year-old Richey’s private life, posting them on his blog, Georgia Politics Unfiltered. They include a series of arrests over several years, the results of a paternity test, a child-support garnishment, the works. In Walker’s eyes, the invasion has been justified because Richey is now political director of the state Democratic party.
Walker is a former state Democratic staffer turned Republican.
Last week, Richey filed a libel and defamation suit in Fulton County Superior Court — not just against Walker, but against Melanie Goux, who operates the oldest Democratic-oriented blog in the state. Blog for Democracy, which averages perhaps 1,000 readers a day, had picked up portions of Walker’s reporting.
Something like a Democratic official suing the state’s Democratic newspaper.
Jane Bradshaw, a former state parliamentarian for the state Democratic party, was also named in the lawsuit — for sending Walker’s material to “numerous individuals” via email. More parties could be added later.
“This libelous act may be continuing and ongoing as the cyberspace universe is infinitely vast in its reach and exposure,” the suit declares. Culpability without end. Amen.
The court action was announced Friday at state party headquarters. Several dozen Democratic activists — among them Buckner and at least four state lawmakers — turned out to provide a backdrop.
Richey admits to a criminal record. “I’ve made mistakes in my life, but that is exactly where they are — in my past life,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.
But by referring to him as “Richey the Recidivist” and “a jail bird,” the suit says that bloggers have suggested he has a felony conviction — when he does not. His most serious offense was a 1998 case of aggravated assault, when he was 17. He was given first-offender status — which allowed the conviction to be erased after successful completion of probation.
This may be a small distinction to you. It becomes important when one works close to hefty political figures, or would like to.
Two things may be drawn from this episode. First, the Georgia Democratic party — once the most powerful organization in the land — remains in a state of upheaval. Its executive director walked out in February.
On Friday, after he declared Richey to be felony-free, party chairman Mike Berlon stirred that pot even more. The chairman said details of Richey’s background had probably been leaked from Democratic office files by a “current,” but unnamed, staffer. And so the soap opera continues.
The larger issue concerns the future of political blogs. Even as they have become more important to rough-and-tumble discussion and debate, many blogs remain small operations by private citizens with little or no training in the rules of libel. Who writes what isn’t always clear.
“The Internet is not a place where, as my grandmother said, you can throw a rock and hide your hand,” said Quinton Washington, Richey’s attorney, who declared his client to be a victim of “cyber-bullying.”
“I’m not a bully. I consider myself a truth-teller,” Walker responded Friday. (Goux and Bradshaw declined comment.)
In addition to being a Democratic staffer, Richey is a talk-radio host. His libel suit could turn on whether he’s considered a public figure — which would raise the bar on his request for damages.
But even if it never receives a hearing, Richey’s suit could still succeed, in at least one sense.
Political blogs are rarely money-making operations. After he lost his Republican race for governor in 2010, Ray McBerry sued a pair of southwest Georgia political bloggers for reporting on his relationship — while a Henry County teacher — with a 16-year-old girl. McBerry also sued the girl’s mother, who referred to him as a “child molester” on her Facebook page.
A judge recently dismissed the case against the mother. The suit against the two bloggers is still pending. But the bloggers have already abandoned their website — and any desire for provoking discussion in the future.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider