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If former Georgia state Senate candidate Tom Mills thinks the state Democratic Party made him look like a Klansman it’s his own fault, lawyers for the party say. But the Democrats’ argument rests not on whether Mills is a racist or a Klansman, but on the party’s brochure, which contained carefully worded assertions about Mills’ Web site. Mills, a Republican, lost to Democratic incumbent Daniel W. Lee, an attorney in the Senate district centered around LaGrange, Ga. Mills sued the Democratic Party May 3, alleging that the Democrats distributed a brochure to area voters that made him look like a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But in an answer filed last week, Jeffrey O. Bramlett, a partner in Atlanta’s Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, and representing the Democratic Party of Georgia, argued that everything the party published in the brochure was true and reflected on Mills’ fitness for office. Arguing that the defendant simply told the truth is a common defense of libel, but the Democratic Party’s argument has a twist. The party’s assertions in the mailer do not explicitly call Mills a racist. Rather, the brochure points out that Mills’ business Web site links to some Southern heritage sites that spout racial bigotry. Mills didn’t author the content of those sites, which his lawyer says are two links away. But the Democrats argue they had a right to inform voters of Mills’ associations. In the answer, Bramlett asks the court to dismiss Mills’ case with prejudice. Bramlett says a motion for summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings may follow. Mills sued over two fliers the Democratic Party mailed to about 6,000 voters during the 2000 campaign. One of the brochures features a block of text over a photo of an unidentified Klansman in robe and hood. WEB LINKS IN QUESTION “Meet Tom Mills,” the brochure reads. “He sells hate for a living. … Tom Mills owns something called ‘St. Andrew’s Cross Publications.’ He peddles pictures of the guy who founded the Ku Klux Klan. … That’s Tom’s idea of a hero. Tom Mills even runs a Web site that’s a link to racist hate pages on the Web … Stop Tom Mills. Before he stops you.” In Mills’ complaint, his lawyers Walker L. Chandler of Zebulon, Ga., and Robert J. Proctor and Bradley A. Hutchins of Proctor & Chambers claim that “Explicitly or at least by innuendo, the campaign brochure states that Plaintiff is a racist, a member of the KKK and Plaintiff’s occupation is the selling of hate. The statements in the campaign brochure about Plaintiff are absolutely false.” In addition to libel, Mills alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress and false light invasion of privacy. He is asking for unspecified general and punitive damages in addition to attorney fees. Mills v. Democratic Party of Georgia, No. 01VS17638E (May 3, 2001). BROCHURES ARE BACKED UP In the Democratic Party’s answer, Bramlett notes that the party only printed the brochure after “reasonable investigation and examination of the information that was published or publicly available from plaintiff’s Internet Web site and from the Web sites of racist organizations that were linked to plaintiff’s Web site.” Bramlett also asks the court to dismiss the false light claim. “By voluntarily seeking election to the Georgia Senate, plaintiff waived any right of privacy which he may have had and thrust himself in the public and political arena, and opened his business affairs, associations and qualifications to hold elective office to disclosure, comment and criticism,” the answer says. Mills, a junior high school teacher in LaGrange, Ga., also runs a Web site ( www.standrewscross.com) offering limited-edition prints of his sketches of prominent Confederate officers. His subjects include Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. “Defendant also avers on information and belief that the plaintiff derives substantial income from the sale of pictures of other ardent defenders of white supremacy and Negro slavery,” the answer says. ‘CONFEDERATE RING’ Mills’ Web site is a member of the Yahoo Portal’s “Confederate Ring” of Web sites. Such rings are indexes of independent sites, which the sites’ owners group together along thematic lines. Bramlett includes as exhibits examples of the sites in Mills’ ring. One such Web site owner responds to those who criticize his neo-Confederate Web site’s message with racial epithets directed at African-Americans. Bramlett says that the racist material is two or three links away, but it comes through the only link to external sites — the Web ring that Mills chose to join. “It was his choice to link to that ring,” Bramlett says. “Presumably he looked at what the ring publishes.” Given the material on some of the sites that share the ring with Mills’, Bramlett says, the party has a pretty strong truth defense to Mills’ claims. “Given those facts he’s got his work cut out for him,” he says. Proctor says his client’s site is not linked directly with any that publish racist material — unless the Democrats consider Yahoo a racist site. Characterizing sites two links away as “linked” to Mills’ site is an expansive definition of the word link, he says. “If that’s the way they do it I’m sure I can link the Democratic Party to a racist site, too,” he says. A review of the Democratic Party of Georgia’s Web site ( www.georgia-party.com) revealed no links to external sites. While search engines like Yahoo will locate the party’s site and provide a link, the party does not link to Yahoo. The party’s answer characterizes Mills as “an unsuccessful candidate who lost an election,” and calls his complaints “politically motivated … without legal or factual merit.” Bramlett says Mills’ suit amounts to little more than an effort to continue waging a campaign he already lost at the polls. “I suppose both sides could have an enjoyable exercise bringing the political debate into the courtroom,” he says. “But that’s really not the proper forum.” Proctor says he finds that argument “amusing,” and notes that his client “isn’t running for anything.” “This [Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore] is the firm that sued [former Fulton County Commission Chairman Mitch] Skandalakis over altering the photo of [former Fulton County Commissioner Gordon] Joyner,” he says. “What’s the difference?” Mills’ suit also names 20 John Does, who Proctor believes were responsible for drafting, printing and publishing the brochure. Proctor says he doesn’t know who the John Does are. Bramlett declines to identify the John Does. The chairman of the state party, David Worley, bears the ultimate responsibility, Bramlett says. “The buck stops on his desk, I guess,” he says. “If they want to harass his staff we’ll probably fight them about it.” SETTLING IS A POPULAR OPTION Libel suits stemming from political campaigns are not uncommon. Recently, however, some have been settled out of court before reaching trial. Skandalakis settled three libel complaints against him: one in 1993 from property appraisal company Cole-Layer-Trumble in Ohio, one from Joyner in 1995, and one from Georgia Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor in 2000. In 1991 former Public Service Commissioner Mac Barber accepted $400,000 to settle his libel claim against Tom Perdue, a former aide to Gov. Joe Frank Harris. Proctor says he has not received any offers to settle his client’s suit. However, if the Democrats want to offer an apology and “an appropriate sum of money,” Proctor says, “We’d be delighted to settle it.”

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