Aron says she was 'shocked' by Brock's attack Ex-Senate candidate's suit may go to jury next week

February 23, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Sounding again like a candidate, Ruthann Aron told an Anne Arundel Circuit jury yesterday that she ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994 because the country was in trouble, and that she was stunned when her opponent called her a criminal.

"I was shocked, shocked," Ms. Aron told jurors in an emotional voice yesterday, describing her reaction to charges by her opponent in the Republican primary, William E. Brock.

Ms. Aron is suing Mr. Brock, charging defamation for his television ads and for saying at a Rockville news conference a week before the 1994 Republican primary that she had been "convicted" of fraud. Mr. Brock, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee and heir to a candy company fortune, won the primary but lost the general election to Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes

She said Mr. Brock's attacks cost her the election, ruined her reputation and have made it difficult for her to conduct business or appear in public.

A few days after the news conference, a woman came up to her in a Rockville supermarket and told her, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You shouldn't be running for office, You've been convicted of a crime," Ms. Aron testified.

Mr. Brock testified that the ads were reasonable campaign tactics and that if he was wrong to use the word "convicted" at his news conference, it was only because Ms. Aron had just accused him of fraud in a Pennsylvania land deal.

"I was sputtering," Mr. Brock told jurors.

Mr. Brock's television ads said Ms. Aron had "trouble obeying the law," that a court had "ruled her out of bounds" and that she had to pay "more than $300,000 because of her wrongdoing."

Ms. Aron acknowledged yesterday that juries ruled against her intwo civil suits filed by former business partners and that she paid about $175,000 to settle each suit.

But she said both cases were civil matters -- not criminal -- and that both judgments have been vacated, or annulled.

"People settle business disputes all the time," she said.

She denied that her television ads were negative, saying she fired her first media consultant because of the ads he produced and she refused to air.

"To me, negative is when what you say is not true. I spoke the truth," she said.

Under cross-examination by Mr. Brock's lawyer, T. Joseph Touhey, Ms. Aron denied that she settled the civil suits to avoid an inquiry by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, which can pull a lawyer's license for ethics violations. She said she agreed to the settlements to put the matters behind her.

"I understand the spin you're trying to put on this, but that wasn't the case," she said.

The case is expected to go to the jury next week.

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