Legislator drops lawsuit against CL

Creative Loafing reported on his conflict of interest

Less than a month after filing a libel lawsuit against Creative Loafing, state Rep. Terry Coleman has backed down from the action.

The unusually quick dismissal, which the legislator's attorney filed May 31, came before CL's lawyers had a chance to respond to Coleman's allegations. But the dismissal did follow by one week the newspaper's publication of a story acknowledging an error in the initial article.

The second story also reasserted the main point of the first article: that Coleman used his power in the Legislature to advance his own interests. The March 14 story, "Would you like your ethics scrambled?", described how Coleman, D-Eastman, sponsored a bill that would benefit restaurant franchises, including Huddle Houses he owns in Eastman and McRae.

Although Coleman argued for the bill on the House floor, CL erroneously reported that he'd voted for it. He had, in fact, abstained from the March 7 vote. A House official incorrectly told CL writer Michael Wall that Coleman voted for the bill.

After the first story ran, Coleman demanded that CL "retract and correct every statement made in that certain article." The lawsuit itself alleged one factual error — the one regarding the vote.

The lawsuit also claimed that the article "was clearly calculated to diminish public confidence in Mr. Coleman and clearly charged him with breaching the public trust and oath of office." Coleman was seeking $2.5 million in damages.

"We're just grateful that [Coleman] seems to recognize that suit would not succeed and that he dismissed it," says CL attorney David Snyder.

The legislator, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has the option to re-file within a year of the date of the March 14 story. Neither he nor his attorney, Jonathan Waters, returned phone calls.

Wall wrote in the May 23 issue of CL that the earlier article "did fail to tell part of the story. While Coleman was at the podium asking House members to support the bill, he said, 'I have a conflict of interest. I'm not going to vote for this bill.'"

The bill passed 95-59 but stalled in a Senate committee. It's up for Senate approval next year.??