Activist fights defamation lawsuit filed by Mount Pleasant village attorney

NOW: Activist fights defamation lawsuit filed by Mount Pleasant village attorney

MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. (CBS 58) -- An activist is aiming to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against her filed by the attorney for the Village of Mount Pleasant.

The dispute stems from a newspaper article in February in which Mount Pleasant village attorney Chris Smith told reporters the village had discussed a proposal to extend trustee terms from two to three years, as far back as 2018.

Kelly Gallaher, an activist and one of the leaders of the group A Better Mount Pleasant, said in a social media posts and emails the statement was false because the proposal was never discussed in public meetings. Gallaher expressed concern the term extension proposal was a power grab by village leaders and had moved to push the action to a referendum.

Smith said Gallaher's statements were incorrect and what he meant was the proposal was discussed privately as far back as 2018, but not in public meetings. Smith asked Gallaher to issue a correction and take down the post, which she complied with.

However, Smith went ahead with the defamation lawsuit in March.

The lawsuit said, "as a result of Gallaher’s defamatory conduct, [Smith] has suffered emotional distress."

It went on to say, "Gallaher made these defamatory statements intentionally and with express malice, which is a basis for punitive damages in a private defamation action."

In a press conference Thursday, April 21, attorneys for Gallaher said the lawsuit was "bogus."

"We're here today defending Kelly [Gallaher] because the first amendment protects her right to criticize public officials without being subjected to bogus lawsuits," said James Knight, a litigation fellow at the Institute for Justice which represents Gallaher in this dispute. "Government officials can't sue private citizens simply because their feelings are hurt."

Gallaher calls the legal action against her a SLAPP suit, meant to silence her. She says the climate in the village in recent years regarding Foxconn and the lack of significant developments for the project has created friction between her group and the village leadership. That climate, she says, was a factor in what led up to the lawsuit.

"I have a right to criticize my local government and local officials. So do you," Gallaher said in a news conference. "This lawsuit is not just a retaliation against me, it is a message to every resident in Mount Pleasant to shut up or else."

CBS 58 reached Chris Smith in a phone call and he said he had no comment on Thursday's developments.

Below are copies of the lawsuit filed by Smith against Gallaher as well as Gallaher's motion to dismiss.

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