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Court rules in lawsuit challenging voter guide statement

August 8, 2020 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — The state Supreme Court has ruled against state schools chief Chris Reykdal, who sued his reelection opponent, Maia Espinoza, for defamation.

The Seattle Times reports that in her official voter guide statement, Espinoza claimed Reykdal championed a policy that taught sex positions to fourth graders. Before the primary, and in response to Reykdal’s initial suit, a Thurston County Superior Court judge said the statement was false, and ordered it stripped from the guide. Espinoza appealed directly to the state’s highest court.

The decision this week reverses the lower court’s July ruling in favor of Reykdal, and orders the secretary of state to republish Espinoza’s unedited statement on its website, and in voter guide materials distributed for the general election, should Espinoza advance. Friday results from the Aug. 4 primary showed her in the top two, with Reykdal.

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The lower court ruling contended Espinoza’s statement was false, and that Reykdal would likely prevail in a defamation case. The state Supreme Court’s ruling, relayed in a summary sent to the parties on Thursday, did not weigh in on whether the statement was true, only that Reykdal did not show a “very substantial likelihood of prevailing in a defamation action.”

Washington state law prohibits false statements about candidates in voter guides. But in order for language to be removed, a court has to rule that language is defamatory.

The legislature recently passed a law — that Reykdal supported — mandating “comprehensive sexual education.”

The law has yet to be implemented. Opponents mounted a successful effort for a referendum to repeal the law, and voters across the state will decide its fate in November.

Espinoza said Fridayshe felt “vindication” in that her statement was appropriate.

In a text message, Reykdal said, “This decision permits all future candidates to use the taxpayer funded voter guide to lie without accountability.”

Voter guides in Washington contain a disclaimer that the statements are not fact-checked.