Supreme court accepts "attack" ad defamation appeal

The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced it decided to hear an appeal involving free speech and campaign-attack advertisements Friday.

The appeal resulting from a defamation lawsuit filed by then-State Rep. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, against Todd Rongstad, a political consultant, was one of 12 cases the state Supreme Court agreed to hear.

The initial lawsuit stemmed from the mailing of an “attack ad” by the Alliance for a Working Wisconsin, which was distributed through Lassa’s district prior to the 2002 election. The ad alleged Lassa had connections with former State Sen. Charles Chvala of Madison and what is known as the Capitol corruption scandal, according to a release.

“[The attack on Lassa] had the potential to do tremendous political damage to her career, but fortunately she was able to survive the attack,” Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said.

The lawsuit against Rongstad also sought to find the identities of others involved in making and circulating the ad. Initially, Rongstad refused to disclose the names of people from the Alliance for a Working Wisconsin who partook in the mailing.

After Dane County Judge Michael Nowakowski told Rongstad he could face charges of contempt if he did not give up the names, the case was sent to another judge, Maryann Sumi.

Though Sumi stated in court Lassa should win the case because Rongstad would not give the information the Democrat wanted, the two reached an agreement and the case was dismissed.

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