Ex-Carroll commissioner, friend sue for defamation over political ad Lawsuits claim that ad contained references to crime and sex.

September 17, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

A man who ran a political advertisement containing alleged innuendoes about crime and sex has been slapped with defamation lawsuits totaling $4.2 million by a former Carroll County commissioner and a woman who contends the ad also referred to her.

In separate suits filed last week in Carroll County Circuit Court, former Commissioner J. Jeffrey Griffith and Donna Jean Lappas claimed that the ad, which didn't name them, still referred to them and made false statements about them. They said it harmed their reputations and caused emotional suffering.

Griffith, 47, who is now a lawyer in Westminster, said he would have no comment on the lawsuit, but did confirm that Lappas is his "lady friend."

Griffith is seeking a total of $1.8 million in damages and Lappas is seeking $2.4 million.

Hoby Wolf, the man named as the defendant in the suit, says he wasn't referring to Griffith in the ad he placed with the Carroll County Times on Sept. 9 of last year, when Griffith was running in the Democratic primary for state Senate from District 5. Griffith won the primary but lost the general election to Republican Larry Haines.

Wolf, a retired public relations man from Eldersburg, said he would have referred directly to Griffith in the ad had he intended the charges to apply to him.

In wording the ad, "if I had meant to name him, I would have," Wolf said yesterday. "The closest it could come would be, if the shoe fits, wear it."

In the ad, Wolf urged support for Griffith's opponent, Francis X. Walsh.

"I support him because he is family oriented and educated," Wolf's ad said of Walsh. "If you need more reasons to support him, ask any law officer. I would support him because I cannot support a candidate that leaves his first wife for the younger trophy wife, can you? This fact has been kept from the papers but remember a man that breaks the most sacred of pledges can break any other promise. For this reason alone . . . vote Walsh."

When the ad ran, a special prosecutor was investigating an incident in which police had stopped Griffith's car and searched it for drugs but found none. Griffith's lawsuit says that at that time, Griffith, the father of two daughters, had been separated from his wife for 18 months and had sought marital counseling.

When asked whether it would be possible to interpret the ad as referring indirectly to Griffith, Wolf said, "maybe," but added that he was only trying to emphasize that Walsh was a family man.

Lappas' suit says that the ad defamed her chastity. She is a county school teacher and a single mother of four.

Wolf said he wasn't referring to Lappas either. He said he believes that she is not young enough to fit the definition of a "trophy wife," a young woman for whom an older, successful man discards his first wife.

"A trophy wife is between the ages of 22 and 28," Wolf said. "Read Psychology Today [a magazine]."

Wolf said he would reply to the lawsuits himself and would not spend the money for a lawyer unless the judge decided to hear the case.

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