Group Sues Lawmaker For Libel
Tuesday, February 5, 2002
The Salt Lake Tribune
By Greg Burton
An Illinois-based animal rights group has filed a libel and slander lawsuit against Clinton lawmaker Paul Ray for calling its members "terrorists."
Ray defamed SHARK – Showing Animals Respect and Kindness – when he falsely stated in a letter that the group made "threats of violence," the lawsuit alleges, and when he purportedly called its members terrorists on television and in writing.
Ray's comments have harmed the group's ability to collect donations, according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.
Informed of the lawsuit by a reporter, Ray seemed unimpressed.
"I called them terrorists," the Republican said flatly. "I grouped them all together because it's really pretty hard to distinguish one from the other."
Ray began a crusade against animal activists more than a month ago when officials from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee met with groups threatening to enlarge protests over SLOC's sponsorship of a cultural Olympiad rodeo in Davis County.
In a Jan. 3 letter to SLOC President Mitt Romney, Ray urged Romney not to cater to animal activists. "We can not (sic) allow terrorist groups such as s.h.a.r.k. and peta to frighten us with their threats of violence."
PETA is the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"You have a responsibility to represent the majority, not the minority, most of whom do not reside in Utah," wrote Ray on House stationery. "Allow these radical groups to protest, as long as they do it legally that's fine. If they cross the line and get violent, we will deal with them within the law."
SLOC has continued to support the rodeo, which is scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Last week, while arguing in favor of a commercial terrorism bill on the floor of the House of Representatives, Ray used similarly negative descriptions of the animal rights movement. And then, over the weekend, he repeated his comments in a televised interview on KUTV.
"He essentially said all animal rights activists are terrorists," said Salt Lake attorney Brian Barnard, who prepared the lawsuit.
"Paul Ray is lumping everybody together. There is no question there are some bad Republican, some fascist pigs, but not every Republican is a Lyndon LaRouche" – a fringe right politician.
SHARK is seeking a trial to determine damages.
While lawmakers speaking on the floor of the House are immune from defamation lawsuits, Ray's comments to Romney and on television are not automatically exempt.
State officials typically are defended by the Utah Attorney General's Office against lawsuits that arise from "actions or conduct that occur in the course or scope of their employment or … official duties," said Assistant Attorney General Mark Ward.
"The presumption is we would represent him if there was a lawsuit that came about as a result of something that happened during the legislative process," Ward said.
Barnard contends Ray's comments to Romney and to reporter Rod Decker in KUTV were "not part of the legislative process. This was billed as a debate about the Olympic Rodeo."
State attorneys are reviewing the case. If the state chooses to represent Ray, Utah Attorney General Mark Schurtleff said the state would be looking for evidence in support of the lawmaker. "Truth is an absolute defense," he said. "So we would have to prove it was true."