This weekend, Terry McAuliffe became the 72nd governor of Virginia. It’s still possible that sometime in the coming year, McAuliffe may have to interrupt his work as governor to be deposed as part of his auto company’s libel lawsuit against an investigative-journalism foundation.
GreenTech Automotive, a company founded by McAuliffe, remains in a holding pattern in its libel suit against the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative-journalism organization, and its website, Watchdog.org. The company is seeking $85 million in damages.
Watchdog.org wrote an eight-part series on GreenTech, its relationship with the Virginia and Mississippi state governments, and McAuliffe.
The lawsuit asserts that the articles “materially injured” GreenTech’s ability to raise capital:
Specifically, as a direct and express result of the articles published by Defendants . . . investors are wavering in their commitment to provide $25 million in investments already promised to GTA. GTA . . . intended to raise $60 million in capital, [and] is now in significant danger as a direct result of the loss of investor confidence in GTA arising from the publication of Defendants’ articles.
Franklin Center countered the lawsuit was a “SLAPP” suit — a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” a form of harassment designed to silence a critic by imposing massive legal fees and hassles.
“GreenTech’s lawsuit against the Franklin Center is baseless political bullying in an attempt to silence the free press,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center. “Our reporters raised legitimate questions about GreenTech’s questionable business practices and Governor McAuliffe’s role through honest, investigative reporting and we’ve continued to pursue the truth despite intimidation from the company. There is no doubt in my mind that this lawsuit should be dismissed in good time.”
Lawyers for the Franklin Center filed a motion to dismiss last year, and on June 25, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Verden issued a stay — meaning a delay of further proceedings — pending the ruling on the motion to dismiss.
“As Terry McAuliffe begins his term as governor, I can’t imagine he wants to spend his afternoons stuck in depositions,” Stverak said.