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Judge declines to block TV ad that links state Senate candidate to drug-trafficking case

Senator R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, spoke in favor of a vote on the expanded gambling amendment bill during a session of the Kentucky senate to on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012.
Senator R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, spoke in favor of a vote on the expanded gambling amendment bill during a session of the Kentucky senate to on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. HERALD-LEADER

GEORGETOWN — A Scott Circuit Court judge refused Thursday to grant a restraining order to halt the broadcast of a campaign advertisement by state Sen. R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester.

At a hearing, Judge Robert Johnson said that there are "clearly issues" with how Palmer's campaign cut and spliced a 2010 courtroom video to produce an ad linking Ralph Alvarado — a Winchester physician and Palmer's Republican challenger — to a drug-trafficking case. But the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional for judges to block free speech unless a trial determines that the speech is defamatory, Johnson said.

"Having been a candidate myself, I know that no one likes it when someone says something negative about them," Johnson said. "But the law at this time doesn't allow the court to restrain it until the claims in the ad are proven as false."

Apart from requesting a restraining order, Alvarado is suing Palmer and his political consultant, Dale Emmons, for damages.

Palmer's campaign aggressively edited a courtroom video in which a judge confronted a suspected drug trafficker to imply that Alvarado was part of the case, deliberately supplying pain pills to a known criminal, said Alvarado's lawyer, Christopher Hunt. The implication is false and has damaged Alvarado's reputation politically, professionally and personally, Hunt said.

If Palmer is re-elected to the Kentucky Senate on Tuesday after being allowed to air such a defamatory ad, "the message that will be sent to every candidate is, 'Tell any lie that you think will help you win the election because the law will protect you,'" Hunt told the judge.

Brian Thomas, an attorney for the Palmer campaign, neither confirmed nor denied that the original courtroom video was altered before it was used in the ad. But Thomas said that Alvarado, as a public figure, has a larger burden to prove defamation. Alvarado will have to show at trial that the Palmer campaign not only presented a false claim, but that it did so with malice intended, Thomas said.

In that instance, Alvarado could be eligible to collect damages, Thomas said.

"Unfortunately, sometimes our system can only provide financial damages," Thomas said. "If people's feelings get hurt, we can't give them back their feelings."

Damages sometime in the future are fine, Hunt responded, but there's an election Tuesday.

"This ad they're running is demonstrably false," Hunt said. "It deceives the public. It gives the voting public inaccurate information on which to cast their votes. And that's really not the way our republic should be run."

Alvarado and Palmer are on the Nov. 4 ballot for the 28th District state Senate seat; the district includes Clark and Montgomery counties and part of northern Fayette County.

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