Tennessee judge rules against deceptive political ads

Published 12:31 pm Monday, October 5, 2020

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MEMPHIS (AP) — A Tennessee judge sentenced two Memphis-area business owners to 10 days in jail on Friday after finding they violated his earlier court orders not to distribute political ads that look like they are official Democratic party candidate lists, the Commercial Appeal reported.
The sentence is suspended as long as Greg Grant and M. LaTroy Alexandria-Williams do not violate the court order for the next 60 days, a period that covers the Nov. 3 election.
Local candidates including Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland had pumped thousands of dollars into look-alike Democratic ballots in 2019, an investigation by The Commercial Appeal found. Several candidates said they believed if they didn’t take part in the ballots, their opponents would.
The Shelby County Democratic Party filed suit against the business owners in the fall of 2019. Circuit Court Judge William Acree issued a temporary order prohibiting distribution of the ballots on the morning of the Oct. 3, 2019 municipal election. The Commercial Appeal learned people continued distributing the ballots anyway. The judge issued an updated restraining order in June of this year. He could later issue a permanent court order stopping the business owners from ever publishing the documents again.
Shelby County Democratic Party Chair Michael Harris testified Friday that the local party does not endorse candidates in primary elections. He said the look-alike ballots have caused confusion and people have called him to complain.
Both business owners testified in their own defense on Friday and pointed toward disclaimers and other edits that they’d made to their campaign literature following the earlier court orders.
Julian Bolton, an attorney for Grant, insisted that his client did nothing wrong and that the use of words like “Democratic” and “Official Ballot” was free speech protected under the U.S. Constitution.
Williams said he plans to appeal the verdict. Grant’s attorney, Bolton, said he was satisfied with the ruling.

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