Holcomb Cease And Desist Letters Could Lead To Defamation Lawsuit

Dec 2, 2019

Gov. Eric Holcomb sent cease and desist letters to Reveal and the Indianapolis Star last week over reports he pressured a state safety inspector into reducing penalties against Amazon.

And a legal expert says those letters could signal an impending lawsuit.

Holcomb’s letters tell the media outlets to retract and correct stories alleging he pressured a safety inspector to clear Amazon of involvement in a worker death.

Indiana University Maurer School of Law’s Joseph Tomain says those letters could be the first step toward a defamation suit.

“Before somebody files a lawsuit for defamation, they have an obligation to request a retraction,” Tomain says.

Holcomb would face an uphill battle in such a suit. Tomain says defamation against a public figure requires what’s called “actual malice” – meaning they have to prove the publisher either knew the information was wrong or recklessly disregarded whether it was true or false.

“That’s a very high burden," Tomain says. "It’s a constitutional burden.”

Holcomb denies any involvement in the Amazon investigation.

Contact Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.