Judge dismisses Hope Mills mayor’s lawsuit against two local citizens

A Cumberland County Superior Court judge has dismissed a libel lawsuit filed by Hope Mills Mayor Jackie Warner.

In the spring, Warner alleged that Meg Larson of Hope Mills and Michael Smith of Cumberland County created a facebook parody page in her name. This allegedly caused her “distress, embarrassment, injury to moral character, and injury to reputation.” She had sought at least $25,000 in damages from each defendant. In July, that case was dismissed by a state Superior Court judge.

The court documents state that “it appears to the court that plaintiff’s claim for libel per se should be dismissed because, among other reasons, the statements described in the complaint are satire and parody that, when considered in context, could not reasonably be interpreted as coming from plaintiff or stating actual facts about the plaintiff.”

Larson, a former town commissioner who served with Warner for two years and was a frequent target for wildly critical editorials that the mayor offered the editorialist edits and suggestions for, said “”I think Hope Mills deserves better. That’s all I can say about that,” Larson said. “I think that people have a right to be critical or show their differences without fear of retaliation.”

Smith said “I am, of course, thankful to God and glad the justice system worked as it did, the way it was created and designed to work, even if the timing and hassles were not perfectly aligned to my preferences. Revealing truth and challenging citizens has always been the purpose of my contributions, whether it’s through humor or straight writing. Officials need to recognize their decisions and leadership styles have consequences on those they lead, and consider alternative views of the narratives they present. And citizens also need to expect more than just pretense and lip service from their officials. The lawsuit itself revealed more pertinent truth than any outside observers, even one who was a fellow commissioner for two years, could have revealed on their own. God reveals all things the way he wants people to see them in his timing. I am just glad to have played a part in his revelation of those truths.”

Warner has not spoken, written, or shared publicly about the lawsuit, but in an email to the Fayetteville Observer, as Abby Church reports, “Warner said she supported free speech, but that social media used anonymously to impersonate others or to misinform “‘was not the intent of the First Amendment.'” The judge didn’t agree with her that that’s what the parody page was.
The Observer story also reports other generic facts that Warner stated which are basically true but leave out other levels of truth to serve the mayor’s purposes. As often happens.
For instance, the story reports “She said the page now includes distinctions that make it clear the page is a parody” but the page said that for along while, to any casual reader who wasn’t looking to bend facts and vex citizens in the courts with misinformation.
“She said she understands that being a target of negativity comes with her position as an elected official,” but it’s not about “negativity” or “positivity” it’s about morality. Besides, that “negativity” canard she harps on is always self-serving, and puts the responsibility on the respondent, not herself,
“but that she owns her mistakes and shortcomings,” clearly that’s not true because of the last sentence fragment quoted, and she’s never acknowledged she sued anyone (wrongly), among many other “mistakes and shortcomings,”
and “saying that if someone wants to speak the truth, they can do so” but her truth is never the whole truth, and if you don’t agree with her presentation of information, you’re an enemy, and might get sued. Don’t expect her to apologize for her wrongs though, because like you see in this paragraph, all her words are managed and nuanced for the image and facade.

[This article now provides a second online source for this lawsuit-dismissal information. The other source is behind a paywall, so if you click on that story, you will only get some of the headline. Those only reading the original story will also be left holding a bag full of pretense, paraphrases and politicized double-speaking nuance.]

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