Mitt Romney is out another supporter. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (who is also running for Congress) has resigned from the campaign after the Phoenix New Times reported that Babeu not only has a male lover but a Mexican immigrant lover who Babeu allegedly threatened to deport if he revealed their relationship. Babeu denies the allegation of threatening to deport the man and insists that it was the former campaign worker named as Jose who threatened him. While some are focusing on the political, I am wondering about the libel in these rivaling statements.
Babeu has now acknowledged that he is gay. The allegations raised cries of hypocrisy given Babeu’s fame for being tough on illegal immigration. However, Babeu has said that the man was legally in this country.
The original story said that Babeu demanded that Jose (a 34-year-old Mexican national) sign a non-disclosure agreement. In one interview, Babeu insisted that he was the target of threats. He stressed “We all know I don’t have deportation authority. I have the authority to arrest. There were several crimes committed against me and my campaign.” That latter statement could pose a serious defamation question for Jose. It seems clear that Babeu is not simply calling Jose a liar but a criminal. That would seems a per se defamation category of alleging criminal conduct.
One allegation is that Jose not only began to spread vicious rumors but “stole” photographs belonging Babeu.
For his part, Babeu himself would have a defamation claim if he never threatened to deport Jose. Notably, at one time, the allegation of being gay was viewed as a per se category as an allegation of “moral turpitude.” It is still invoked in some cases, but, as we have previously discussed, the treatment of homosexuality as a per se category fails to recognize social changes and contemporary attitudes. It can, however, still be used in cases where the person has a position or social claim of harm linked to such an allegation. Yet, in this case, this controversy is not material given Babeu’s press conference statement that the allegation is “absolutely, completely false, except for the issues that refer to me as being gay. Because that’s the truth. I am gay.”
That leaves those other “absolutely, completely false” statements as a basis for defamation. Thus, one of these guys has a defamation case. The question is who will sue. Truth remains a defense, of course. You would think that someone would be filing in a local courthouse.
For his part, Jose went on CNN and said it was not Babeu’s lawyer but Babeu who threatened him in a text to his cellphone. He says that he met Babeu on the gay dating website called gay.com. Notably, he said that Babeu wooed him by sending him a photo of him with Sen. John McCain. Of course, we all use photos with McCain in pick up bars and websites. He is widely considered the Cupid of Conservatives — often appearing wearing little more than a sash and bow and arrow on Republican Valentine cards. Frankly, that last allegation may be the most damaging to Babeu’s image. After all, you have this picture with a cruiser and gun and you send a picture with John McCain?