Vincent Orange fights against a request to dismiss a defamation action
Vincent Orange is fighting to maintain his libel suit against the Washington Business Journal and his former reporter (and current city paper Loose Lips Columnist) Alex Koma to be fired. If he fails, the candidate for Ward 5 Council and former head of the DC Chamber of Commerce could be responsible for his defendants’ mounting legal bills.
The impetus for the trial is Koma WBJ article from March 22, 2021, announcing that Angela Franco would replace Orange as Chairman and CEO of the Chamber on a permanent basis. The article says the Chamber “was on a difficult financial footing” prior to Orange’s departure, in part due to a long-running (and now settled) legal dispute and the loss of “significant financial backers”. .
Ballard Spahr lawyers representing WBJ and Koma filed a special motion to dismiss the case under DC’s anti-SLAPP law. (SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation”; the law aims to protect parties from lawsuits that attack statements of public interest.)
The lawyers point out that the Orange lawsuit does not say exactly what is wrong with Koma’s reporting. And even if it were, the lawyers say, Orange can’t prove that Koma or WBJ acted with “actual malice”, the standard a public figure such as Orange must meet to win a defamation claim. Instead, the attorneys say, Orange’s beef appears to be with conclusions drawn from those facts.
“Orange is free to disagree with how the facts should be characterized”, lawyer Chad Archer said in court documents. “What he can’t do right, however, is use defamation law to ask the court to rule that his interpretation is the only correct way to punish a journalist. This demand, particularly coming from a politician who appears to have brought this lawsuit as a campaign tactic, is exactly the kind of thin-skinned attack that the First Amendment prohibits.
(Disclosure: city paper retains other attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s media law firm.)
Bowman does not elaborate on his claim that Orange brought the lawsuit as a campaign tactic, but court filings and the Ward 5 candidate’s latest financial report offer a clue. According to court records, Orange hired a man named Alonzo Edmondson to serve Koma with the trial on April 5. His financial report shows he cut Edmondson a check for $150 a few days later, on April 15.
Did Orange use campaign funds to pay a bailiff in his lawsuit?
“Of course not,” he said city paper by email. “Payment for service of proceedings is from my personal funds.” The payment to Edmondson on his campaign account “was for security services for my campaign event at the O Street Mansion” on April 15, Orange says.
In its response to the anti-SLAPP motion, self-represented Orange reveals the parts of Koma’s reporting that it believes are wrong. Orange claims Koma and WBJThe Chamber’s assertion in the March 2021 article that the Chamber was in a “difficult financial situation” prior to Orange’s departure is not true.
This article linked to another article, published in February 2020, which reported the contradiction between Orange’s positive portrayals of House finances and the rather bleak picture its own lawyers painted in court. The February article cited the House’s own tax returns, the shrinking of its board of directors and the decline of high-value funders as evidence of a “persistent slide in its fortunes over the past few years. “. The article also noted that net assets “have grown steadily” since Orange took over in 2016.
“Koma’s written publication that the DC Chamber under Vincent Orange shows [sic] a persistent fall in his fortunes over the past few years is simple [sic] false by any stretch of the imagination,” Orange argues, noting the increase in revenue, membership dues, and contract and grant revenue during his tenure.
“One plus one equals two,” Orange continues in its response. “Koma is not authorized to write one plus one equals four and hold another responsible for intentional misrepresentation.”
Orange also claims that the anti-SLAPP law does not apply to it. He argues in court documents that his departure as Speaker of the House in June 2020 shifted the public interest to Franco, his replacement.
WBJ The lawyers seem to scoff at this claim, saying in their response that Orange “makes no serious case against enforcing the anti-SLAPP law.”
“He is a public figure and former public servant who, while currently seeking to return to elective office, has asserted claims against Koma based on statements referring to these public roles,” the attorney said. Matthew Cate written in the court documents “So the law clearly applies to these statements.” The March 2021 article also refers to Orange’s failed bid for a seat on the DC Council, which is clearly a matter of public interest, the lawyers say.
In the second sentence of his lawsuit, Orange defines himself as “a public figure on the basis of his many years of accomplishment in the management of public affairs”, in particular as a member of the board and as chairman and chief executive officer of bedroom.
The most recent filings also resurrect an ethics issue that has followed Orange since leaving office. After losing his seat on the Council to robert white in the June 2016 primary, he accepted the top House post in July and intended to serve out the remainder of his term, which would expire at the end of that calendar year. Several board members have described Orange’s dual role – legislator overseeing trade policy and chief lobbyist for the business community – as a blatant conflict of interest. the Washington Posteditorial board and WBJOrange’s editor subsequently called on Orange to resign.
Adding to the outrage was a To post op-ed Orange wrote in 2011 arguing that board members should not be allowed to take on second jobs. “It is difficult for residents to accept that outside employment does not carry the potential for conflicts of interest, unethical behavior, corruption and divided loyalties,” Orange wrote. He finally gave in and resigned in August 2016.
Since returning to the political spotlight with an unsuccessful run for a General Council seat in 2020, Orange has pushed back against the idea that holding both jobs at once is a conflict of interest, citing a letter from the council Ethics and Accountability of Government. Although this letter indicates that he could run for and hold public office while serving as House Leader, it goes on to explain that the specific duties of each job may conflict or at least give the appearance of a conflict.
In its lawsuit, Orange claims Koma and WBJ “raised this conflict of interest statement” in the February 2020 article. But, as their lawyers point out, the article only says that Orange “generated a lot of controversy” and ultimately resigned “under pressure ethics groups. She does not accuse Orange of having a conflict of interest.
“Regardless of what the Ethics and Government Accountability Council might have said about it, Orange’s argument is odious for the First Amendment, which protects the principle that ‘criticism of government operations officials must be free,” Cate, the defense attorney, said in court documents. “This legal authority fully protects the right of the Logand anyone else, to criticize a politician for seeking to serve on the DC Council while working for the district’s main business lobby and to call this dual role a conflict of interest.
If Koma and WBJ win their motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP law, a judge could also order Orange to pay their costs and attorneys’ fees. The exact amount would be subject to further briefing. But the further the case progresses, the higher these costs will be. A hearing is scheduled for July 15.