Judge dismisses defamation lawsuit

Published 10:39 am Friday, November 18, 2016

A defamation lawsuit filed by Ironton Municipal Court Judge Oakley Clark Collins Jr. in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court was dismissed before the defendants were served lawsuit paperwork.

Listed as the defendants in the suit were the Informed Citizens of Lawrence County Facebook page c/o Joshua M. Wheeler as the alleged administrator; Joshua M. Wheeler himself; James T. Holt IV, a local attorney accused of having ties to the Informed Citizens page and the cousin of Andy Ballard, Collins’ opponent in the common pleas judicial race; and anyone else who may have been involved with the Informed Citizens page, listed as John Does.

The lawsuit stemmed from the Meet the Candidates political forum in Burlington on Sept. 22, where following the event, the Informed Citizens page and comments by Holt accused Collins of lying about operating a drug court.

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In a written statement announcing the lawsuit, Collins said he “filed a defamation lawsuit to protect Lawrence County voters from being defrauded by dishonest and misleading campaign attacks.”

Attached to the suit were transcripts of Collins’ and Ballard’s remarks from the forum, screenshots of a video posted by the Informed Citizens page and screenshots of comments by Holt.

Holt said he still stands by what he said.

“As I said about a month ago, this was nothing more than a cheap intimidation tactic that was poorly thought over,” Holt said. “I believe Mr. Collins realized that this suit was not going to go well for him, and I still stand by what I said. Ironton Municipal Court does not have a drug court, and I hope this election and the outcome of this lawsuit serve as an example to citizens of Lawrence County that you can stand up for what you believe in and tell the truth without fearing retribution or personal attacks from elected officials.”

On Election Day last Tuesday, Ballard defeated Collins in the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court judicial race by a total of 12,959 votes to 11,013 votes.

Collins and his lawyer, Columbus-based attorney Donald Brey, had no comment on the lawsuit dismissal.