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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Md. lawmaker sues fellow party members for defamation

Del. Impallaria's targets say he's using courts to try to silence them

Del. Richard "Rick" Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Harford counties. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Del. Richard “Rick” Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Harford counties. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

A state delegate will spend time in the coming month in courtrooms around the state suing members of his own party.

Del. Richard “Rick” Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, is suing fellow Republicans in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties for defamation. And while the four-term delegate appears to be attempting to use the courts to intimidate political opponents, in one filing Impallaria claims he and his family have suffered emotionally and compares his accusers to embattled actor Jussie Smollett.

Impallaria, 56, is scheduled to be in Baltimore County Circuit Court next week as he pursues a defamation case against four members of that county’s Republican Central Committee — Al Mendelsohn, Joshua Wolf, Bradley Lang and J. Michael Collins.

In his complaint, filed in May, Impallaria alleges the four “maliciously distorted allegations” linking him to an investigation by the Office of the State Prosecutor into a campaign robocall targeting Del. Kathy Szeliga, who shares a district with Impallaria.

In transcripts of a central committee meeting provided by Impallaria, the four are part of a discussion about the robocall purportedly from the “National Center for Transgender Equality” urging support for Szeliga and labeling her a champion for transgendered persons because of a 2016 state law prohibiting employers from discriminating against transgendered persons.

The call went to approximately 9,000 people in the conservative district and carried no campaign authority line — a violation of state campaign laws.

Tyler Walch, an aide to Impallaria, was charged with disseminating the call and ultimately sentenced to probation before judgment, fined $1,000 and given three years unsupervised probation.

Impallaria was never charged, and he dismissed Walch from his legislative staff when the charges became public.

At a Feb. 18, 2019, meeting — two months before Walch was sentenced — the four members of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee talked about reprimanding Impallaria and whether he was connected to the robocall, according to a transcript of the meeting. They also discussed a Baltimore Sun column that outlined Impallaria’s legal troubles – he was convicted for DUI, has had numerous traffic citations and in 1982 was charged with four counts of attempted murder for attempting to drive over his mother, brother and two others, charges reduced to battery and for which he served three years’ probation.

The transcript is taken from a nearly 30-minute video shot and posted on Youtube by Walch.

Mendelsohn at one point called for the reprimand, saying “frankly everybody in Annapolis believes that Rick knew and potentially set it up. But you know, there’s a difference between everybody knowing and finding the evidence of it.”

Defamation standards

The attorney for the four Baltimore County Republican Central Committee members dismissed the defamation claims and the comments at the meeting. “It’s an expression of opinion,” said Alexander Bush.

Bush, a Rockville attorney and chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee, called Impallaria’s lawsuit “weak” and said it was an attempt to silence or intimidate people who the delegate doesn’t believe have the ability to hire a lawyer and defend themselves.

Impallaria, who did not return a request for an interview, is representing himself in the cases.

In a three-page filing, Impallaria accused the four of defamation and putting him in a false light. He is seeking an award in excess of $75,000 for each of the two counts against the four individuals.

The delegate filed the lawsuit just weeks before the Maryland Republican Party met in Ocean City and voted to ask him to resign from the legislature, calling him “unworthy” of his elected position.

Timothy Maloney, a former legislator and partner at Greenbelt-based Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A., said defamation cases such as Impallaria’s are extremely difficult to win because public figures are held to a higher standard than the general public.

“There’s this little case in the Supreme Court called (New York) Times v. Sullivan,” said Maloney, referring to a landmark case establishing defamation and libel standards.

Additionally, Maloney said, a case could be made that members of the central committee have a limited privilege that allows them to discuss the matter.

Impallaria was never charged in the robocall incident. Maloney said Impallaria’s civil action would expose him to being deposed about his role in the matter and subpoenas for his cellphone and other records.

Harford County cases

In two other cases, Impallaria is suing two Harford County Republicans, claiming they each defamed him when they filed complaints against him with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee.

Complaints to the legislative ethics panel are confidential by law. They were made public when Impallaria filed his lawsuits against Carol Kiple and Christopher Biggs and attached letters from the committee referencing the complaints.

Kiple, in her complaint, alleged that Impallaria used a state-owned printer to do campaign work. The ethics committee, in a letter to Impallaria, said it could find no evidence that he had committed the ethical breach and dismissed the complaint.

Biggs filed two complaints in January. In the first, he questioned the appropriateness of Impallaria receiving sports and concert tickets from an aide. The committee dismissed that, saying the prohibition on gifts applies only to persons having a financial interest that could be affected by the actions of the legislature.

In the second, Biggs alleged that Impallaria failed to properly disclose an outside job on annual ethics disclosure forms. The committee found that Impallaria, while disclosing the employment in some years, had in fact failed to disclose outside employment consistently. The ethics panel ultimately decided to take no action against Impallaria after he filed amended reports and promised the ethics panel he would be more diligent in his disclosures.

In a filing in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, Impallaria said Kiple and Biggs are “making up allegations and should not be protected or allowed to waste the valuable time of government bodies such as the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics or agencies such as the state special prosecutor. As in the case of Jussie Smollett in Chicago, those allegations were false and the state’s attorney chose not to prosecute. That did not stop the city of Chicago, the mayor and the police chief from seeking civil action against Mr. Smollett.”

Smollett had claimed to be the victim of a racially motivated attack, but authorities later concluded that the incident had been concocted.

 


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