Judge rejects New Hanover senator’s bid to remove TV ads

Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, chairs a Senate committee meeting. (Image from YouTube)

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  • Judge rejects Sen. Lee's, R-New Brunswick, request to pull allegedly untrue television ads in the Wilmington area.
  • The attorney for Lee's Democrat opponent, Marcia Morgan, said the ads will be voluntarily stopped today.
  • A defamation lawsuit against Morgan and her campaign committee will proceed.

A North Carolina Superior Court judge rejected Sen. Michael Lee’s, R-New Hanover, request to have his Democrat opponent, Marcia Morgan, immediately take down allegedly false television ads against him. However, a lawsuit against Morgan and her political campaign committee will proceed to trial.

Lee, the incumbent in Senate District 9, is running against Morgan in SD 7. He filed a motion Monday in New Hanover County Superior Court seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the ads, which allegedly defame him and his law firm, from running on Wilmington area television stations.

Judge Phyllis Gorham denied Lee’s request for a temporary restraining order.

According to a press release sent by Lee’s campaign, the ad falsely claims that Lee used his political position to help clients at his law firm. The ad mimics another from a previous campaign that made the same claim. At that time, Democrat Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo stated that the charge was categorically false. Lee and his law firm sent cease-and-desist letters to the television stations, outlining in detail the alleged defamation and lack of evidence for the claims in the ad. 

Morgan’s attorney told Judge Gorham that she would be voluntarily discontinuing the ad as of today.

“One day soon, a jury of New Hanover citizens will pass judgment on her defamatory advertisement,” Lee responded to the judge’s decision. “In the meantime, all New Hanover voters will pass judgment on Morgan’s course of behavior on Nov. 8.”

New Hanover County Democratic Party chose Morgan as the SD 7 nominee after the original candidate, Jason Minizcozzi, withdrew in late June.

Morgan had two previously failed runs for the state House in 2018 and 2020.

Lee was first appointed to office in August 2014. He was re-elected in 2016, lost the seat in 2018 but won the seat back in 2020. He has championed education and has been recognized for his achievements on a state and national level.

“While I am disappointed in this ruling, I remain confident that justice will ultimately prevail, both in the lawsuit against Marcia Morgan for her defamatory attack ad against me and a Wilmington small business and in the poll booths on Election Day when the voters of New Hanover County reject Morgan’s radical and dangerous positions,” said Lee.

A law that makes it a misdemeanor to lie about a political candidate is being challenged by Attorney General Josh Stein. 

Stein’s latest filing in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals makes the case for declaring a 91-year-old state law unconstitutional. The law creates a misdemeanor crime for people who lie about candidates in election campaigns.