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Subdivision builder seeks dismissal of Harford Co. defamation claims

Gemcraft CEO William R. Luther Jr. made "false statements with actual malice" in the last week when he accused Harford County government officials of discrimination in radio and newspaper interviews. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Gemcraft CEO William R. Luther Jr. made “false statements with actual malice” when he accused Harford County government officials of discrimination in radio and newspaper interviews, according to a lawsuit filed by the government officials. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

An executive being sued for defamation over remarks accusing Harford County officials of discriminating against a Joppatown subdivision targeting Muslim buyers is asking a federal judge to dismiss the officials’ claim.

William R. Luther is the managing partner of OT LLC, which owns the subdivision, and CEO of Gemcraft Homes Inc., the builder, which filed suit seeking an injunction requiring the government to issue relevant permits and allow construction to continue.

The plaintiffs also accused Harford County officials and two state lawmakers of conspiring to halt the development when they learned it was being marketed as a retirement community for Muslims and 22 homes had been sold to Muslim buyers.

Luther, reiterated the claim while a guest on “The C4 Show” on WBAL-AM on Oct. 19, accusing officials of “discrimination against people of the Islamic faith” and then repeated the allegation in a Washington Post story.

“I’ve never seen such discrimination,” Luther is quoted in the Post as saying. “It’s sickening. I don’t know what the heck they are doing.”

The defendants responded to the request for injunction Oct. 27, claiming the motion “peddles falsehoods, distortions, half-truths and omissions” and should not be granted. That same week, the government employees named in the lawsuit also filed a third-party complaint against Luther himself accusing him of making false statements with actual malice.

In a motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit, filed Tuesday, Luther argues his statements are not actionable and the complaint is retaliatory and baseless.

The motion claims the third-party plaintiffs failed to “set forth a complete and accurate quotation” of his radio interview, in which he restated the allegations in the discrimination lawsuit, and the comments in the newspaper article were opinion about government actions.

In both instances, Luther argues his statements are protected by the litigation privilege because they were made in the course of judicial proceedings. He also claims the privileges to comment on the performance of government officials, report on court proceedings and comment on the facts contained in the complaint.

Luther also alleges the complaint attempts to bring a “libel on government” suit, which the First Amendment prohibits. His comments were not directed at a particular person but were “impersonal, generic protest against government operations.”

County Executive Barry Glassman and other Harford County government workers are seeking $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

No hearings have been scheduled in the case as of Wednesday.

The case is OT LLC et al. v. Harford County, Maryland et al., 1:17-cv-02812-GLR.

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