Lehigh DA Jim Martin Sues Over Blogger’s ‘Personal Animus’

February 11, 2015

The Morning Call
By Laurie Mason Schroeder

Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin is suing Allentown blogger Bill Villa, claiming Villa tarnished the district attorney’s reputation online and on a local radio program calling Martin “crooked” and “corrupt,” and saying his office “fixes” criminal cases.

Villa, who lost his daughter in a 2006 drunken-driving crash and has been vocally unhappy over the prosecution of the driver, said the lawsuit will not stop him from criticizing Martin.

In the suit, filed last week in Lehigh County Court, Martin said Villa “has held a personal animus towards Martin” since 2006 and has knowingly lied about the way he prosecutes criminals.


To prevail in court, Martin will have to prove that Villa lied and made statements that would injure Martin’s reputation while knowing that the statements were false or with reckless disregard for whether they were false.

Jeremy Mishkin, a Montgomery county [sic] lawyer who specializes in First Amendment and media law issues, noted that an elected official such as a district attorney is held to a higher standard in defamation suits. That’s because suits like Martin’s could have a “chilling” effect on people who speak out against the government, Mishkin said.

“The lawsuit is not that unusual — a public official who has been the subject of accusations like these sometimes concludes that they have no choice but to bring a lawsuit seeking compensation for the damages done to his/her reputation. The fact that the defendant made these accusations in multiple media (on a blog as well as on broadcasts) is a more recent variation, but citizens have been complaining (with or without good grounds) about government officials forever,” Mishkin said.

But lawsuits can backfire on officials, the lawyer said, fueling critics’ flames.

“On a practical basis, many public officials opt not to sue, even in the face of criticism, partly out of concern that filing suit they will draw even more attention to the original critical statements,” Mishkin said.

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