A defamation lawsuit related to a political advertisement in a North Carolina state senate race has been resolved through a settlement.
During the highly contested NC Senate district 7 race last fall, which includes New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington, incumbent Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) faced off against Democrat Marcia Morgan. The race encountered controversy when Morgan released a political advertisement titled “Serving Others”.
The ad which ran on local TV stations in the Wilmington area claimed, “Lee used his political position to serve real estate clients. Lee got rezoning and special use permits for big developers against the advice of city planners, sticking us with overdevelopment, higher living costs and more traffic. That’s not leadership. That’s self-interest.”
On October 3rd, 2022, Lee and his law firm Lee and Kaess, PLCC filed a lawsuit against Morgan seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction prohibiting them from running the ad. “The advertisement is defamatory because it on it’s face — or at a minimum by implication — it falsely charges Mr. Lee with committing felonies and impeaches him and the law firm in their trade and profession,” the legal challenge states.
Judge Phyllis Gorham did not grant Lee’s request to remove the ad, however Marcia Morgan’s campaign voluntarily discontinued the ad. Lee went on to beat Morgan by 2.4% in the November 2022 election.
After almost a year the two parties reached a settlement and filed for a voluntary dismissal. In a Facebook post Morgan released the following statement.
“Michael Lee and I just resolved a lawsuit regarding a political advertisement that my campaign ran in 2022. Following the guidance of the NC Senate Democratic Caucus’s staff and consultants, my campaign ran an advertisement that accused Michael Lee of using his position as a NC Senator to obtain special favors for his real estate developer clients. I regret that my accusations were not based on actual facts. I am grateful to put this matter behind me and move forward.”.
Michael Lee released a statement putting the Senate Democratic Caucus in the spotlight.
“I have developed a thick skin when it comes to campaign attack ads, but when individuals knowingly and falsely accuse me of criminal actions, implicating not only me but the governments of the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County, we have reached a new low.” Lee continued, “Regrettably, the consultants and the Senate Democratic Caucus misled and encouraged Marcia Morgan to disseminate this untruthful ad due to personal vendettas to impugn my character and my law firm’s reputation. Actions have consequences, and I hope this will serve as a lesson to the Senate Democratic Caucus on how they run their future campaigns.”