The fallout from a bitter 2016 Oregon House primary continues.
Following his loss in that Republican primary for House District 26, which covers parts of Clackamas, Washington and Yamhill counties, former state Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) sued Oregon Right to Life and the Oregon Family Council over campaign mailers that Wingard said made "false statements about [Wingard's] prior sexual relationship with a legislative aide."
Wingard was attempting a comeback in 2016 after leaving the Legislature. He served two sessions in the 2009 and 2011 sessions, rising to the position of deputy minority leader.
He gave up his seat after WW reported allegations in 2012 from a former staffer who said that he'd given her alcohol before she turned 21 and pressured her into a sexual relationship. (Wingard said the relationship was consensual.)
As the defamation case moved forward in 2016, attorneys representing Oregon Right to Life and the Oregon Family Council moved to strike Wingard's lawsuit, filing what is known as an anti-SLAPP motion ("SLAPP" stands for "strategic lawsuits against public participation").
In effect, Right to Life and Oregon Family Council were arguing that Wingard was using the courts to quell legitimate political speech.
Multnomah County Judge Adrienne Nelson (whom Gov. Kate Brown appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court in January) ruled against Right to Life's ant-SLAPP motion, which meant Wingard's lawsuit could move forward.
Right to Life and the Oregon Family Council then appealed Nelson's ruling.
On Feb. 28, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a reversed Nelson's decision. The court found that Wingard had failed to meet the necessary threshold of proving that, should the case move forward, he would be able to prove "actual malice," i.e. that Right to Life not only published material that was false but they knowingly did so.
"Rep. Wingard has always denied any wrongdoing," Rask says. We believe the evidence we provided the trial court proves that defendants recklessly disregarded the truth. We're now considering our options."