Politics & Government

Defeated Kentucky lawmaker sues GOP opponent in May primary for alleged defamation

Former State Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond
Former State Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond

State Rep. C. Wesley Morgan of Richmond is suing the woman who defeated him in May's Republican primary election, claiming her campaign falsely accused him of backing legislation to enrich himself.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Madison Circuit court, Morgan claims Deanna Frazier of Richmond defamed him in the primary election race for the 81st House District in Madison County. Other defendants include Frazier's campaign assistant, Brad Shuttuck, and his Lexington business, Strategic Impact, and 20 other unidentified people.

Morgan, represented by attorney Robert A. Winter Jr. of Fort Mitchell, is seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages.

Morgan, in a statement, said the lawsuit "isn't about me. It is about standing up for the people."

Winter said the case "could change the way we look at dirty politics and the mud slinging that has become all too common place in today's campaigns."

Frazier, who operates Bluegrass Hearing Clinic, defeated Morgan, the owner of a small chain of liquor stores, by 16 percentage points in the May 22 primary, and faces Democrat Morgan Eaves of Richmond in the November general election.

Frazier was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit against her.

In his suit, Morgan said Frazier's campaign sent out two mailers and posted a video on YouTube and her website last May that were not true.

The first mailer said Morgan "is using his office to enrich his liquor business and put himself above the law." It also said Morgan was charged "with breaking the law he wanted changed."

Morgan made headlines during his single term in Frankfort for repeatedly filing bills that would benefit liquor store owners and bills to protect boat owners from losing physical possession of their boats to lien holders. His legislation generally was unsuccessful.

Morgan was charged in April 2017 after police in Barbourville caught him moving alcoholic beverages between his stores in Central Kentucky. At the time, state law banned liquor store owners from carrying alcohol across county lines without a transporter's license, a law designed to curtail bootlegging.

Morgan tried to change that law during the legislative session and was criticized by an ethics watchdog group. The bill did not pass. However, a similar bill sponsored by a fellow Republican did pass.

A judge dismissed the charge against Morgan in August 2017, saying he was allowed to "take advantage" of the new law even though it had not yet gone into effect. Even without the new law, the judge said the old law was unconstitutional.

The omission of the dismissal of the charge by defendants "renders the statements made false," Morgan said in his suit against Frazier.

Frazier's second mailer accused Morgan of not paying taxes he owed on a boat. "At the time mailer 2 was sent, Morgan had resolved all tax issues with the applicable authorities," Morgan's suit said.

The Herald-Leader reported in August 2017 that Morgan had failed to pay property taxes on his $250,000 houseboat for more than a decade.

Also, the newspaper reported that Morgan had sued Lee’s Ford Marina in Pulaski County in 2016, alleging that the marina had illegally placed a lien on the boat and chained it to the dock.

Morgan said Frazier's campaign "continued to knowingly publish inaccurate information with reckless abandon."

The video said Morgan used his position in Frankfort "to make life easier on himself and to pass legislation affecting the bottom line of his business."

Not true, said Morgan in his lawsuit.

Morgan's attorney said the complaint does not limit liability to Frazier and her campaign staff and included up to 20 other defendants who were involved with the mailers and video.

On the night of the May 22 primary election, Morgan said was quitting the Republican Party to throw his support behind the Democratic nominee in November's general election. The next day, he said he changed his mind.

Kentucky's property tax rate on small fishing and ski boats in Kentucky is 30 times higher than on many houseboats.

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