Judge dismisses former gubernatorial candidate’s defamation suit against news station

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Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
A judge on Tuesday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against an Oklahoma City news station by a former gubernatorial candidate.

Oklahoma County District Judge Trevor Pemberton dismissed the lawsuit Gary Richardson filed against KFOR-TV. Richardson sued KFOR in September 2018, alleging the news station defamed and misrepresented him in a story about a campaign ad Richardson created, ultimately damaging his law practice and gubernatorial bid.

Richardson, a Tulsa attorney, told The Frontier on Tuesday evening that he would consider appealing the judge’s decision. The judge dismissed the suit under the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act (the state’s anti-SLAPP law). Anti-SLAPP laws aim to stop frivolous lawsuits against entities or individuals exercising their free speech rights.

Richardson said because the act was enacted in 2014, he believes there could be some gray area in the law.

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“We think we’re right, but we’ll get a copy of the record that was made today, and look at it and make a decision on what we plan to do,” he said. “It wasn’t just a slam-dunk decision from the standpoint that the law is clear on that issue.

“When you’re going against the power structure — the media — you have to take the battle on. I’ve done it before, and we’ll see what happens once we get the records from the heating today and analyze it and do some research and make a decision.”

Robert Nelon, an attorney representing KFOR, praised the judge’s decision.

This morning, after a thorough discussion of issues among the court and counsel, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss under the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act,” Nelon said. “The defendants are pleased with the court’s decision.”

Richardson ran a 30-second campaign ad in April 2018 ahead of the June primary, highlighting the death of longtime KFOR sportscaster Bob Barry Jr.

“In 2015, an illegal immigrant kicked out of the country three times killed beloved sportscaster Bob Barry Jr.,” Richardson’s ad stated.

Barry, 58, was struck and killed while driving his motor scooter in Oklahoma City. Gustavo Castillo Gutierrez, 26, made an illegal U-turn and Barry was unable to stop, according to NewsOK.

Gutierrez pleaded guilty to causing the accident while driving without a license, resulting in death, and possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The TV station published a story in April about Richardson’s campaign ad.

KFOR general manager Wes Milbourn, who the suit also names as a defendant, said in the station’s story KFOR aired the ads but was “displeased with their advertising tactics and the exploitation of Bob Barry Junior.”

During a news conference announcing the lawsuit at his law office in September 2018, Richardson said he was never told the station had an issue with the ad.

In a statement Barry’s son sent to KFOR after the ads ran, Matt Barry said Richardson ran the ads without the family’s consent.

“Although we have no personal dislike for Mr. Richardson or his political ambitions, we find it very troubling that Mr. Richardson ran an advertisement that could imply that the Barry family endorses in any way his election as Governor of the State of Oklahoma,” Matt Barry said.

“In sum, the Barry family does not appreciate the liberties taken by Mr. Richardson and his campaign; and condemn the utter lack of respect shown towards our tragic loss.”

Richardson said KFOR told him Barry’s family would be notified about the ads before they aired, according to KFOR’s article. His suit states he did not have contact information for the family.

“Milbourn said he did let them know about the ad the day before it began running,” the article stated.

After the interview with KFOR about the ad, while the camera was still running, Richardson was talking with the KFOR reporter in “light-hearted small talk unrelated to the subject of the interview” and he was smiling and laughing, the suit states. The suit alleges the story make it appear as if Richardson was laughing at the subject of Barry’s death.

“Specifically, the segment was inserted into the broadcast so that the non-related pre-interview footage showing Mr. Richardson smiling and laughing immediately followed footage of the scene of the tragic motor vehicle collision that took Mr. Barry’s life, which footage was accompanied by Defendants’ reporter stating “…’now Gary Richardson is using that story in his latest political ad,” the suit’s complaint states.

At the news conference in September 2018, Richardson called KFOR’s portrayal of him “fake news.”

At the time of the story, Richardson told KFOR he planned to pull the ads from their station, according to the station’s article.

Richardson’s suit stated KFOR portrayed him in a false light. He was seeking more than $75,000 in damages.

“As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ malicious conduct, the general public reasonably understood Defendants’ Broadcast to mean that Mr. Richardson was an egregious and ruthless politician willing to do anything to get ahead of the race,” the suit stated.

In court filings, KFOR denied Richardson’s allegations, stating the story was of public concern because he was running for governor and that nothing in the story was false.

Richardson was defeated in the June 2018 primary after he received about 4 percent of the vote. Richardson was fourth behind Todd Lamb, Kevin Stitt and Mick Cornett.

Further reading: 

Former Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate sues news station for defamation

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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