EDITOR’S NOTE: The EPIC News Network is a statewide student journalism program funded by Epic Charter Schools.
OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma County District Judge on Wednesday dismissed a defamation and libel lawsuit filed by Epic Charter Schools against state Senator Ron Sharp.
District Judge Cindy Truong dismissed the case during a hearing. Truong said Sharp’s statements were protected and were not malicious. Truong said Sharp’s comments didn’t rise to the level of actual malice.
Sharp, a Republican from Shawnee, told the Oklahoman newspaper that he was pleased by the decision. “Clearly, Epic was trying to do this to destroy my credibility and divert attention from what I was asking,” he said. “The fact that they filed this just before the deadline for legislation, they clearly wanted legislators to be intimidated by this lawsuit.”
Shortly after the judge’s decision was announced, Epic’s superintendent, Bart Banfield, said the school was exploring its legal options but added that a legal affidavit signed by Sharp showed his statements were his opinion and not statements of fact.
Sharp, Banfield said, admitted in a sworn affidavit that his statements about Epic were only his beliefs and not actual statements of fact. “We are pleased he has admitted his falsehoods against Epic are merely his opinion and are not the truth. As an organization, we will discuss today’s ruling and our legal options,” he said.
“It’s notable that someone who took an oath to uphold the law defended himself by saying he has a license to lie as a public official,” Banfield said in a media statement. “He claimed he was immune to the same type of civil liability any other citizen has. No one should be above the law, including Mr. Sharp. “
The lawsuit, filed against sharp by Community Strategies, Inc., the company that runs Epic, alleged that Sharp made false, misleading and inaccurate statements about the school. The lawsuit said Sharp’s statements – often made is press releases issued by the senator – have exposed the school’s staff, teachers, parents and students to “public hatred, contempt and ridicule; and, Sharp’s statements have tended to deprive the plaintiff of public confidence in its mission.”
The suit also alleged that Sharp’s statements have injured Epic. Records show the Epic school board voted unanimously Oct. 19 to file the suit.