RICHMOND -- A suit filed by state Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey against station WTVR, CBS 6, columnist Mark Holmberg and other television station employees was dismissed in federal court Thursday.
"This Court concludes that Holmberg's broadcast is clearly presented to CBS 6 views as political commentary. Consequently, it is entitled to broad First Amendment protection warranting dismissal. The content also appears to have a defensible factual basis," wrote U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson on Thursday.
Hudson's 14-page opinion concluded by granting WTVR's motion to dismiss the suit filed in 2017. The suit stemmed from Sept. 2, 2016 on-air commentary that was followed up by an online article with the headline, "Holmberg: OMG: Sextin' Joe Morrissey is leading the mayor's race!"
The suit alleged that Morrissey was falsely depicted as "a stupid liar who was a sex-crazed maniac." Morrissey sought $1.35 million in damage.
Holmberg's commentary reviewed Morrissey’s history of legal troubles, including his loss of his law license, contempt citations, a courthouse fistfight while serving as the city’s commonwealth’s attorney and his jail sentence stemming from allegations he had sex with a then 17-year-old receptionist in his law office whom he has since married.
Hudson on Thursday noted among other things that Morrissey contends Holmberg made false comments, "described Holmberg's remarks as imputing his unfitness to serve as mayor."
The suit argued that during the broadcast Holmberg falsely stated that, "During the past couple of years, Richmond has made national news and international news as a cool place to live, to visit, to play and party. Now we're making national news because of this fool?"
Hudson wrote that, "Morrissey characterizes this allegedly false statement as 'the product of spite, ill-will, and an overt desire to discredit and destroy Joe's reputation for being extremely intelligent."
Hudson wrote that, "much of the commentary at issue is tame in light of the tenor of contemporary political debate. This is particularly true of such amorphous terms as 'fool,' 'famously and stupidly' 'this clown, this nonstop, one ring circus, this liar.' While such language may be insulting and derogatory, it does not have the requisite defamatory sting."
"When public figures enter the political arena, they have voluntarily exposed themselves to increased risks from defamatory falsehood concerning them," wrote Hudson.
Morrissey lost the race for mayor but has since been elected to the Virginia state Senate and took his oath of office Wednesday.