A former aide to Robin Smith has officially named attorney and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in a lawsuit, charging him with defamation and questioning his legal abilities.
"The statements made by and on behalf of Mr. Fleischmann were intentionally and maliciously misleading," states a complaint filed Tuesday in Davidson County Circuit Court in Nashville.
The lawsuit was filed by Mark Winslow, a former Smith aide, and asks for $750,000 in damages. Last year, Winslow served as the Tennessee Republican Party's chief of staff while Smith was chairwoman, later becoming Smith's communications director during her run for Congress.
Fleischmann declined comment through a spokesman. By law, he has 30 days to answer the complaint.
The lawsuit revisits the bad blood between Smith and Fleischmann during last year's 3rd Congressional District GOP primary campaign and comes just as Smith decides whether to challenge Fleischmann to a rematch in 2012.
Smith has said she is not involved with the lawsuit, which names Fleischmann's chief of staff, Chip Saltsman, as the primary defendant.
The lawsuit says Saltsman, acting as a campaign consultant for Fleischmann, illegally obtained Winslow's confidential employment records with the Tennessee Republican Party and said Smith used state party funds to pay Winslow's campaign wages. Saltsman distributed the documents to several news organizations, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press, "cynically and with an intent to deceive," according to the lawsuit.
Winslow largely paints Fleischmann in a supporting role, alleging the soon-to-be congressman parroted remarks Saltsman made on local radio shows and approved ads which stated that Smith illegally "paid her future congressional staff lavish bonuses."
"Mr. Fleischmann is a licensed attorney and is therefore charged with knowledge of the law," the complaint states. "No attorney competent to practice in this state could truthfully describe the payment as 'illegal.'"
Fleischmann beat Smith by 2 percentage points after a primary campaign heavy on attacks. Since then, Winslow "has been unable to obtain employment with any other Republican Party organization, political campaign, candidate or elected official," the complaint states.
Winslow also has accused Saltsman of interfering with Winslow's employment application with U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, the Republican congressman from Tennessee's 4th District. Robert Jameson, a spokesman for DesJarlais, said he could not comment on pending legal matters.
Financial disclosures show Fleischmann's campaign has paid $7,565.38 to the Nashville law firm defending Saltsman. It's unclear whether Fleischmann can or will use campaign donations for his own legal defense.
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...