N.C. Court of Appeals rules in favor of judge in libel dispute

A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has reversed a portion of a trial court’s ruling and favored Brunswick County Judge Ola Lewis in her libel suit stemming from the 2010 election campaign. The suit stemmed from a dispute over Lewis’ endorsement of a candidate in a Republican state Senate primary. Edward Rapp, a media strategist for the opposing candidate, contended in a blog entry that Lewis violated the N.C. Code of Judicial Conduct in making her endorsement.

While Rapp backed away from his initial claim in a follow-up post three days later, appellate judges agreed the second post was still libelous. The case now can proceed to a jury for determination of issues of “actual malice and damages.”

In other opinions released this morning:

  • A unanimous three-judge panel delivered Fayetteville mixed news in a legal dispute over privilege license taxes for video sweepstakes operators. While the Appeals Court upheld a lower-court ruling favoring the city in the case of more than 10 sweepstakes operators, appellate judges reversed the lower court in the case of three other operators. At issue is whether the city’s tax — $2,000 per business, plus $2,500 per “computer terminal” — could drive the sweepstakes operators out of business. In the case of the three operators allowed to proceed with their case, evidence suggests payment of the tax would have forced them to close their businesses. These operators can proceed to a trial on their claims.
  • A unanimous three-judge panel affirmed the N.C. Property Tax Commission’s ruling favoring David Murdock in his dispute with Cabarrus County over a half-million-dollar sales tax bill connected with the N.C. Research Campus.
  • A unanimous three-judge panel found no error in the Wayne County murder trial of former Marine Ceasar Laurean, who was convicted of killing fellow Marine Maria Lauterbach in December 2007.
  • A unanimous three-judge panel affirmed a lower-court ruling against Waste Industries and Black Bear Disposal, which had claimed that state limits on the size and location of landfills violated the Commerce Clause by “discriminating against out-of-state waste.”
  • A unanimous three-judge panel reversed a lower court and favored the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools in a dispute over $50,000 in attorney’s fees connected to the challenged assignment of a student to an alternative learning center.
  • A unanimous three-judge panel reversed a lower court and allowed an injured patient to proceed with a gross negligence suit against Halifax Regional Medical Center.
  • A unanimous three-judge panel affirmed a trial court’s ruling favoring Elon University and a campus fraternity in a lawsuit stemming from an off-campus scuffle.
  • A unanimous three-judge panel affirmed trial court rulings favoring Gastonia in a dispute over demolition of privately owned mobile homes.

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