Mayor sues newspaper for $6 million over lost election
ALABAMA–The former mayor of a small town in Alabama filed a multi-million dollar libel suit in early October in a state court in Eutaw, Ala., against a local weekly paper.
A.L. “Buddy” Lavender, who was defeated in the August 1996 mayoral election in Boligee, Ala., sued the Greene County Democrat and its co-publishers, John and Carol Zippert, for more than $3 million, claiming that the newspaper’s articles on his performance in office cost him the election.
John Zippert stands by the accuracy of his stories.
“We published the news and the truth about Mayor Lavender and now we are being attacked and unfairly sued,” Zippert said. “We feel that this attack is not only on us but on the First Amendment rights of all people in Greene County and elsewhere in this nation.”
The suit is based on a series of articles the Democrat printed about the aftermath of the burning of three local black churches. The reports in question described disputes between Lavender and the pastors of the churches over the proper distribution of funds donated to rebuild the churches. According to the articles, Lavender came into possession of contributions intended for the churches and refused to release them until he received copies of invoices showing how the funds would be used.
One story reports: “Early this week it was reported that Lavender had left town. According to a prevalent rumor, he was using church funds to take a vacation.”
Lavender alleges that the suggestion that he misused the funds was false. He also claims that the newspaper’s reports damaged his reputation so badly that he lost the 1996 election to challenger Bonny Olayiwola.
Zippert said that although two attorneys have agreed to represent the newspaper without charge, litigation will nonetheless prove costly due to court costs and the time and effort required to defend against the lawsuit.
“Our attorneys are looking into the possibility of a countersuit because of the frivolous nature of this attack against us,” he said. (Lavender v. Greene County Democrat; Media Attorneys: Hank Sanders and J.L. Chestnut)