A former candidate for the House of Delegates said he is standing by campaign fliers featuring a mug shot of Del. Richard “Rick” Impallaria that are now the key piece of evidence in an ongoing defamation lawsuit.
Impallaria, 56, is suing Michael Geppi for defamation in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The delegate, who was convicted of driving under the influence two years ago and has numerous traffic violations and previous criminal charges, is alleging the glossy mailer contained “false, defamatory, and maliciously distorted allegations in an effort to disparage, injure, and undermine” Impallaria’s public, personal and professional standing.
“We didn’t make this stuff up out of thin air,” responds Geppi, who unsuccessfully ran for the House of Delegates in the 2018 Republican primary in the same district Impallaria represents.
Impallaria is a four-term Republican who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.
Geppi said all of the statements made in the mailing are sourced from published news reports and online court records.
“Truth is an absolute defense,” said Geppi. “He doesn’t like what we said. He’s done horrible things. They’re not flattering, but they’re true.”
Since the beginning of this year, Impallaria has embarked on a campaign of defamation lawsuits against political adversaries within his own party that one defendant’s attorney characterized as an attempt to “silence or intimidate people.”
Geppi called Impallaria a “bully” who routinely threatens people with lawsuits if they speak out against him.
The Geppi campaign fliers feature a police mug shot of Impallaria taken after his 2016 arrest in Ocean City.
The two campaign fliers detail the delegate’s court history, including dozens of traffic citations; the 2016 offense on the Eastern Shore and a similar offense in 1997; a 1982 incident in which he was charged with “assaulting his mother and brother” and two others with a vehicle; and another motor vehicle accident in which another motorist was killed.
Those details are similar to newspaper reports on Impallaria’s past dating back to 2002.
Other defamation suits
Impallaria has three other active defamation lawsuits against six other Republicans.
In one case involving four members of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, Impallaria alleges he was defamed when the four members — Al Mendelsohn, Joshua Wolf, Bradley Lang and J. Michael Collins — discussed a possible reprimand based on Impallaria’s past history and his campaign’s connection to an illegal robocall.
Impallaria was never charged in the incident, but his top aide was and later was given a $1,000 fine, three years unsupervised probation and community service.
Alexander Bush, a Rockville attorney who is representing the four Baltimore County defendants, 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.
Bush is also the chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.
In two other cases, Impallaria claims he was defamed by two Harford County residents — Carol Kiple and Christopher Biggs — when they filed complaints with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee.
In two instances the committee found Impallaria had not violated the ethics code. In a third, the committee determined that he did violate ethics rules by not disclosing a job on his financial disclosures but the committee took no action because Impallaria filed amended reports.
The work of the committee is confidential by law. Impallaria made the matters public when he filed the ethics panel’s decisions as exhibits in his lawsuits. The delegate, who is not an attorney, is representing himself in those cases.
Impallaria’s three-page lawsuit against Geppi lacks specifics as to which statements contained on the fliers were malicious and false.
‘That’s his belief’
David Ellin, a Reistertown attorney who represents Impallaria in his lawsuit against Geppi, said his client objected to the characterization of the fatal accident for which Impallaria was never charged.
“The driver made a left-hand turn in front of (Impallaria),” said Ellin, adding that the flier “portrays (Impallaria) as a person with all these citations and DUIs and he killed someone and it’s false.”
Ellin said the accident so traumatized Impallaria that even now he refuses to wear a seat belt.
Ellin also said Impallaria objected to language in the flier that he said the delegate believes characterizes him as someone who tried to kill his own mother.
“It’s his opinion that the fliers claim he attempted to kill her,” said Ellin. “That’s his belief.”
Impallaria was charged in 1982 with four counts of attempted murder for attempting to drive over his mother, brother and two others. Those charges were later reduced to battery, and Impallaria served three years’ probation.
“A reasonable person would say if you try to run over someone in your car, you’re trying to kill them,” said Geppi when asked about the statement.
The fliers that highlight the fatal accident say only that Impallaria was involved. The delegate was never charged in the incident.
“These things are very reasonable and true,” Geppi said.
In the suit, Impallaria states that Geppi “acted with knowledge of the falsity of the statements and with the intent to harm the plaintiff’s chances to be elected delegate when distributing mailers with these false and defamatory statements.”
Impallaria called the statements “highly offensive to any reasonable person” and claimed his reputation within the community was harmed and he “suffered mental anguish and personal humiliation.”
When asked about the specific damages suffered by the delegate, Ellin said his client would explain in court.
In a brief filing in February, Geppi’s attorney asked for a dismissal, claiming Impallaria’s suit lacked specificity and that the delegate had not met the “high standard of review for the case” set by the Supreme Court of the United States in landmark defamation and libel case New York Times v. Sullivan.
Ellin said he plans to file motions for default judgment against both Geppi and his campaign, which is nearly $1,700 in debt as of the most recent filing in January.
Geppi said that while his campaign was served, he was never served as an individual and that his attorney plans to file a motion to dismiss. The former candidate predicted that either he or one of the other defendants will countersue Impallaria.
“Frankly, there are a lot of Republicans who have had enough of Rick Impallaria,” said Geppi.