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The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

D.C. judge dismisses former mayoral candidate’s slander case against GW professor

The+League+of+Women+Voters+D.C.+partnered+with+GW+to+host+the+in-person+forum%2C+which+Cheryl+W.+Thompson+moderated.
Auden Yurman | Senior Photo Editor
The League of Women Voters D.C. partnered with GW to host the in-person forum, which Cheryl W. Thompson moderated.

A D.C. Superior Court judge dismissed a former mayoral candidate’s lawsuit against the University and professor Cheryl W. Thompson last week, siding with the defense after they argued the plaintiff failed to prove he was eligible for relief from the court.

Judge Hiram E. Puig-Lugo granted the defense’s motion to dismiss the case with prejudice in a hearing last Thursday after James Butler, a former Democratic candidate for D.C. mayor, alleged in a January complaint that Thompson slandered him when she brought up his disbarment while moderating a mayoral forum in the Jack Morton Auditorium in April 2022. The defense argued in a reply last month to their motion to dismiss that Butler — who initially sued Thompson and the University for $575,000 for emotional distress, slander, false light and vicarious liability — failed to show he was eligible for relief from the court because he did not provide evidence for his claims.

“We are gratified by the Court’s proper dismissal of this lawsuit,” University spokesperson Julia Metjian said in an email.

Butler did not immediately return a request for comment on the dismissal. Thompson did not return a request for comment on the dismissal.

Thompson, an associate professor of journalism and an investigative correspondent at NPR, moderated a mayoral candidate forum in April that GW hosted in collaboration with the League of Women Voters DC, a nonpartisan citizen participation organization. During the forum, Butler alleged Thompson said he broke the law while discussing his disbarment, which occurred in November 2009.

Beginning in 2007, the Office of Bar Counsel — which is responsible for disciplinary actions against D.C. attorneys — started to receive complaints from Butler’s former clients accusing him of neglect, lack of communication, intentional failure to pursue their lawful interests, dishonest advertising, failure to return files, failure to return unearned fees, dishonest statements and failure to supervise attorneys working for him.

Butler said during the forum he did not break any laws but admitted he committed ethical violations while practicing law before his disbarment. He said he voluntarily consented to disbarment and was not forcibly disbarred.

The defense motioned to dismiss the case in March, citing the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act, which allows defendants to counter lawsuits against people who used their First Amendment rights. Butler replied in opposition to the motion in April, arguing the act does not protect journalists from defamation cases.

The defense replied to Butler’s April motion last month, reiterating that Butler did not provide evidence that showed Thompson would not be protected by the act because he failed to show Thompson’s statement that Butler “broke the law” was an objectively false statement, instead of simply her opinion or part of a question.

“Plaintiff’s meritless lawsuit against Defendants is precisely the sort of case the Anti-SLAPP Act was designed to prevent,” the defense’s reply from May in support of its motion to dismiss states.

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About the Contributor
Erika Filter, News Editor
Erika Filter is a senior majoring in international affairs from Carson City, Nevada. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editors and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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