A former Republican statehouse candidate filed a defamation lawsuit against the Kentucky Democratic Party, the state party chair, and his former opponent last week in Campbell County Circuit court.
Jerry Gearding, who lost to Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport) in the 67th District in 2022, filed the lawsuit over campaign materials he said aren’t true and have damaged his reputation, and cost him employment.
The materials were from Roberts, the Democratic Party, and its party Chair, Colmon Elridge, according to the lawsuit.
“Starting in late July of 2022, and continuing until the election on November 8, 2022, Defendants began a course of conduct founded in false and malicious written and verbal statements regarding Gearding, designed and orchestrated to damage his reputation and cause him to lose the support of his community,” the lawsuits reads.
The lawsuit stems from campaign materials distributed by the party during the campaign that highlighted Gearding’s alleged arrest record for domestic violence, a DUI arrest, a disorderly conduct arrest, and bankruptcy that the party published on Jerryforjail.com.
Further, the lawsuit references mailers published by Roberts’ campaign, as well as an instance where Elridge tweeted out a photo of Gearding with Robert Goforth, a former member of the Kentucky House of Representatives that pled guilty to domestic assault and strangulation.
“Defendant Elridge’s statement in his July 20, 2022 tweet made no distinction between Gearding, who has never been convicted of domestic abuse, and Robert Goforth, who pled guilty to fourth-degree domestic violence in July of 2022,” the lawsuit reads. “Elridge used the plural description ‘domestic abusers’ to describe both Plaintiff and Robert Goforth.”
Gearding’s lawsuit claims that the materials sent out by Roberts, Elridge, and the Democratic Party intentionally set out to disparage his reputation.
In an interview with LINK nky last year regarding the claims made by the party, Gearding said that the accuser in his cases had mental health issues, though official police reports make no mention of the accuser’s mental state.
Gearding previously told LINK nky he’s innocent and had not been drinking during his arrests. He also said he believes the Campbell County court system treated him unfairly because he previously ran for Campbell County commissioner, and described his last two arrests as a coordinated effort between the county attorney’s office and the police.
“It’s disappointing because no one supports our police more than me,” Gearding said in a text message regarding whether the police gave him a field sobriety test during one of his arrests. He argues they didn’t and said he had body cam footage to show he wasn’t intoxicated. “There was clearly coordination between the county attorney’s office and the police the last two arrests so who knows.”
Further, he said in the interview that he understood he would receive these attacks when he ran for office, knowing that the information would be public.
“When I ran for office, I certainly understood that my personal life would become public domain,” Gearding said last year. “These allegations are things that I knew would be brought up, and actually, before I ran, I talked to my son about it.”
He also denied doing anything that the Kentucky Democratic Party accused him of, especially when it came to comparing him to Goforth.
“I don’t know the background on his case, but I know the background on my case, and I know I was innocent, so if they want to attack me that’s fine,”Gearding said last year. “I have pretty big skin.”
The lawsuit also describes a different series of events than what’s stated in official police reports, with Gearding arguing he was arrested based on claims made by his now ex-girlfriend.
Gearding’s first charge happened in August of 2018 when police were dispatched to a home in Wilder. According to the police report, a woman called and reported that Gearding assaulted and injured her.
Gearding was attempting to leave with his 10-year-old son, and when police removed him from the car, he “had a strong odor of alcoholic beverages, bloodshot, watery eyes, and could not follow direction,” according to the report. The report also says he refused a field sobriety test, which is something Gearding denies.
“The female caller had a swollen lip and cut on top of her head,” the police report says. “She stated (Gearding) punched her and shoved her, knocking her head into the microwave.”
Further, the report says the son told the police that the two were fighting over a liquor bottle.
“(Gearding) was a danger to self and others,” the report says.
A month later, Gearding was again arrested when police were called to the home in Wilder. The same woman from the previous incident said Gearding was drunk and yelling at her.
“Officer had arrested Mr. Gearding for Assault 4th on 8/18/18, and Judge (Cameron) Blau made bond release conditions that included no contact with the victim and no alcohol or drug use,” the police report says. “The County attorney was notified, and after confirming the conditions of his release with Judge Blau, Mr. Gearding was taken into custody. Mr. Gearding was extremely intoxicated at the time of his arrest.”
In December 2018, Gearding pled guilty to violating the conditions of his release in Campbell County. He said that was for contempt of court. This issue, he said, was because he was told he could go back home and the charges would be dropped, but the paperwork was never filed.
A month later, in January 2019, Gearding was arrested again, according to police records. The same woman called the police to the Wilder home.
“The girlfriend, who advised the male aggressor began arguing with her in the living room, knocked over dog food all over the floor, then pushed her head into the ground,” the police report says.
Gearding went to his mother’s house and, when talking with police, said he had no idea what happened, admitted to the other police officer there had been an argument, and claimed to one officer he was just sleeping at his mother’s house, according to the report.
“He was extremely intoxicated, slurred speech, unsteady on his feet, admitted to drinking vodka,” the report says.
Gearding denied being intoxicated in all instances.
The last charge was dropped in the summer of 2020 after Gearding completed a diversion, which involved Gearding having to move out of state, according to court records.
“I had to move out of the state, and I didn’t want to pull my son out of school in the middle of the year, so I asked them if I could move to Ohio, and I was told ‘no, you need to go farther than that,'” Gearding said at the time. “So I had to move where my employer was at the time in South Carolina.”
However, the lawsuit lists a different series of events than what’s stated in official police records: The suit says that Gearding’s arrests stem from the girlfriend making “false and spurious allegations against Gearding. Gearding was arrested on the statements of GF and charged, in Campbell County District Court, with misdemeanor assault, fourth-degree domestic violence, and alcohol intoxication in a public place,” the lawsuit says regarding the original incident in August of 2018.
The original domestic violence misdemeanor and alcohol intoxication charges from August 2018 were dismissed on Dec. 12, 2018, and the only charge that remained was a contempt of court charge for violating the terms of his release agreement, Gearding’s lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also details a different set of circumstances around the dog food incident.
“On January 11, 2019, and after being at his mother’s house for approximately four hours, Gearding returned home to find GF still in a drunken rage,” the lawsuit says. “Gearding decided, once again, to leave the premises and go back to his mother’s house. As Gearding was attempting to leave the home with his son and their dog, GF went after Gearding’s son, attempting to remove the dog and a bag of dog food from their son’s hands, resulting in a minor tussle between the two. Gearding had no involvement in this interaction.”
In January 2020, the charge of misdemeanor assault for fourth-degree domestic violence was dismissed.
“Pursuant to an agreement reached with the prosecuting attorney, Gearding agreed to temporarily leave the state as part of a diversion program,” the lawsuits says. “Gearding agreed to do this in large part out of concern for his son’s well-being and to remove him from a disruptive environment.”
In Kentucky, if a defendant completes a diversion program, the charges will be dismissed.
Gearding returned to Kentucky in June of 2020, according to his lawsuit.
The claims made in the campaign materials aren’t valid, the lawsuit says, and the party willingly distributed them despite knowing they were false claims.
“The accusations made are defamatory as they tend to lower Plaintiff in the estimation of his community, they deter third persons from associating or dealing with him, they have caused him to be shunned and avoided, they have deprived him of friendship, intercourse, and society, they have damaged his employment and business prospects, and they have injured him in his involvement in public politics,” the lawsuit says.
Gearding said in a statement that he didn’t come to a decision to file the lawsuit lightly.
“I did not come to the decision to seek legal recourse lightly,” he said. “However, to protect the integrity of our elections, and to protect future candidates who want to represent their communities, I had to take a stand.”
Roberts said she couldn’t comment on the case because it’s before the courts, “but I want to make clear that I will take whatever steps are necessary to defend myself and reputation against these bogus claims.”
The Kentucky Democratic Party declined to comment.
Read the entire lawsuit below.