(WBIR - KNOXVILLE) A judge has dismissed the libel lawsuit filed by former Knox County GOP chair Ruthie Kuhlman against local political blogger Brian Hornback, also a former local Republican Party chair who owns and writes for "Shock and Awe."
Kuhlman initially sued Hornback in October 2013 for $100,000, accusing the long-time blogger and former Knox County school board member of posting six false statements attributed to her and that he did so out of malice.
For example, she said that Hornback, on his blog, suggested that Kuhlman – whom he never actually named – verbally attacked a Young Republican Club leader; said that he resigned from the club; and said he was blackballed "by the money in the party".
She also said that Hornback asserted that she stated: "If we are to ever achieve elected superintendent status that we have to vote out Rep. Harry Brooks and Sen. Becky Duncan Massey."
The two state leaders support electing a superintendent, rather than voting in one, something that is a hot issue among many local Republicans.
Kulhman's attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, asked for a retraction and public apology from the blogger, but Hornback refused.
Hornback then secured sworn affidavits from a number of his sources who said they heard Kuhlman make the statements.
In the end, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who presided over the case after a number of local judges recused themselves, said Kuhlman failed to establish malice, a key component needed to win a libel case.
Malice, he noted, connotes more than personal ill will or desire to injure, but rather "it is limited to statements made with knowledge that they are false or with reckless disregard to their truth."
Blackwood said that part of Kuhlman's argument focused on attempting "to portray Mr. Hornback's habit of publishing false statements," and "that she believes (Hornback) belongs to a political breakfast club that dislikes her."
"Much of this evidence is inadmissible, such as (Kuhlman's) beliefs about being disliked or that (Hornback) harbors ill will," Blackwood wrote in his judgment. "(Kuhlman) cannot rest upon supposition, but must state with clarity factual issues that establish actual malice." (Kuhlman) has failed to carry this burden . . . ."
Kuhlman is responsible for court costs, but Hornback must pay his own legal fees.
Kuhlman can still appeal.