WASHINGTON — Lawyers for conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart asked Tuesday that a federal judge throw out a defamation case that former government employee Shirley Sherrod brought against him.
Sherrod was ousted from her job as a Georgia rural development official last year after Breitbart posted an edited video of her making supposedly making racist remarks. She sued Breitbart, his employee Larry O’Connor and an unnamed defendant for defamation and emotional distress. Sherrod’s lawyers say the unnamed defendant is the person who they believe passed the video on to Breitbart.
The video on Andrew Breitbart’s website turned out to be edited, and when Sherrod’s full speech to an NAACP group earlier that year came to light, it became clear that her remarks about an initial reluctance to help a white farmer were not racist but an attempt at telling a story of racial reconciliation. Once that was obvious, Sherrod received public apologies from the administration — even from President Barack Obama himself — and an offer to come back to the Department of Agriculture, which she declined.
In the first hearing in the case Tuesday, exactly a year to the day Sherrod was ousted, lawyers for Breitbart argued that Sherrod’s case is an attempt to dampen free speech and should be dismissed. They also argued to have it dismissed under a District of Columbia statute that aims to prevent the silencing of critics through lawsuits.
If the case is not dismissed, Breitbart and O’Connor’s lawyers argued to have it moved from the District of Columbia to California, where the two men live. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said he would consider all of the requests but did not indicate how he would rule.
Sherrod’s complaint says the incident has affected her sleep and caused her back pain. It contends that she was damaged by having her “integrity, impartiality and motivations questioned, making it difficult (if not impossible) for her to continue her life’s work assisting poor farmers in rural areas” even though she was invited to come back to the Agriculture Department.
Breitbart’s original posting a year ago showed an excerpt of a March 2010 speech to an NAACP group in which Sherrod talked about her reluctance to help a white farmer who came to her more than two decades ago when she worked at a farm aid nonprofit group. The video was posted amid ongoing friction between the NAACP and the tea party movement, each of which were accusing the other of having racist elements among their ranks.
The blogger said at the time that the video showed the NAACP condoning racist comments from a government official.
The full video, however, shows Sherrod explaining to the audience how she eventually became friends with the farmer and helped him save his land from foreclosure.