A defamation lawsuit filed more than two years ago by 2020 U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta against Republican primary foe Hirsh Singh has been dismissed, with a Superior Court judge finding that Singh’s campaign attacks “are protected statements of opinion.”
During the 2020 Senate primary campaign, Singh said that Mehta engaged in “voter fraud”; that his position at Pfizer made him an “opioid peddler” and “responsible for the mass-murder of millions of pre-born babies”; and that he was a “Democrat in disguise” due to his previous Democratic voter registration, among other attacks.
Mehta – who ultimately beat Singh 38%-36% in that primary, but went on to lose to incumbent Senator Cory Booker in the general election – filed a lawsuit in January 2021 accusing Singh of broadcasting a “smear campaign to flout the truth and create a series of repeated lies.” The lawsuit alleged that the attacks rose to the level of defamation and necessitated restitution.
But Superior Court Judge David Ironson disagreed, finding insufficient evidence for Mehta’s claim that Singh’s attacks were made with “actual malice,” an important legal standard for defamation cases.
“The court finds that the statements of Mr. Singh are not false and defamatory,” Ironson wrote in his opinion, which was released last Friday. “Rather, they are protected statements of opinion. Defendant, Singh, has pointed to the facts upon which he has based his statements. Readers of the statements are able to draw their own conclusions as to whether the opinions are justified.”
Ironson further noted that Singh’s attacks were not dramatically out of bounds in the modern era of political campaigns.
“As set forth by the court in Lynch, ‘when a candidate enters the political arena, he or she must expect that the debate will sometimes be rough and personal,’” Ironson wrote, citing a 1999 case in which State Sen. John Lynch (D-New Brunswick) unsuccessfully sued the New Jersey Eduaction Association for defamation.
Singh, who is currently engaged in a no-hope campaign for president of the United States, said on Twitter that the ruling was a “huge victory” and a “landmark judgment that has made proponents of free-speech rights around the country ecstatic.”
Mehta’s attorney, Alan Zakin, told the New Jersey Globe that he intends to pursue the case further.
“We will file a reconsideration of the ruling because the summary of facts and law contained in the opinion does not match the substance of our cross motion,” Zakin said.
This story was updated at 7:00 p.m. with comment from Zakin.Mehta Singh lawsuit