Former state Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) isn't going away quietly.
In the wake of his unsuccessful bid in the May primary to reclaim a House seat he once held, Wingard this week filed a defamation lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court against two of the most powerful interest groups in Oregon GOP politics: the Oregon Family Council and Oregon Right to Life.
Wingard, who held the House District 26 seat covering parts of Clackamas and Washington counties from 2009 to 2013, launched a comeback attempt in March after incumbent John Davis (R-Wilsonville), his successor, announced he would not seek re-election.
In the May primary, Wingard competed in a three-way race with lawyers John Boylston and Richard Vial.
Voters in the district received extensive mailings about the circumstances of Wingard's decision not to run for re-election in 2012, which came after WW reported on a relationship he'd had with a female aide beginning when the woman was 20.
In his lawsuit, Wingard says the mailers mischaracterized that relationship. He cites, for instance, a mailer paid for by the Oregon Family Council, which endorsed Vial, the eventual winner in the primary.
“Wingard left office in disgrace because he…pressured a twenty-year-old staff member into a sexual relationship,” the mailer said. “[H]e is a former state representative who left office in shame after pressuring at least one young staff member into drinking alcohol and having sex with him.”
Wingard’s lawsuit, first reported yesterday by the Portland Tribune, says that characterization is “untrue, defamatory, intended to subject Plaintiff to ridicule, and diminish the respect and confidence in which Plaintiff is held by members of the community.”
Oregon Right to Life, which also endorsed Vial, produced mail with a similar characterization.
Wingard is seeking $500,000 in damages each from Oregon Family Council and Oregon Right to Life, saying, “As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ false and defamatory statements, [Wingard] has suffered extreme distress resulting in physical and bodily illness, such as, but not limited to the following: loss of appetite, nausea, loss of sleep, and stress.”
Gayle Attebery, longtime executive director of Oregon Right to Life, says she’s disappointed in Wingard.
"It's unfounded and a ridiculous lawsuit," Atteberry says. "He's just acting like a sore loser, and he's not going win."
The Oregon Family Council expressed a similar sentiment.
"The lawsuit is absurd and a non-starter," Jack Louman, the group's executive director, told WW in a statement. "Do a simple internet search of Matt Wingard and see what you find."