WayBack Machine / Exhibit in Kucinich Lawsuit
This forbidding header greeted guests of DennisPaidaPredator.weebly.com during the 2021 mayoral campaign.
During the heated weeks of August, 2021, in the leadup to the Cleveland mayoral primary election, a website appeared online with a singular purpose: associating mayoral candidate Dennis Kucinich with a man who'd been convicted of child rape in 2014.
The now defunct website — DennisPaidaPredator.weebly.com — was one of several pieces of campaign literature attacking the former Cleveland mayor and U.S. Congressman, many of which were connected to the Kevin Kelley-aligned Super PAC Citizens for Change
. Though the site's creators remained anonymous, they are now defendants in a defamation lawsuit filed by Kucinich in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas last month.
Kucinich says in the suit that he hired a third-party vendor to help circulate his mayoral petitions in 2021, and that one of the employees of that vendor did indeed have a criminal record stemming from an incident in Colorado in 2014.
The suit argues that the John Doe defendants gained access to his petitions, likely through a public records request to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, and either conducted background checks of petition circulators or otherwise determined that one of the vendor's employees was a sexual predator.
The defendants went on to create the website and advanced what the suit calls a "chilling" and libelous allegation: that Kucinich hired this sex offender "to collect personal information about Cleveland residents in the guise of circulating [the Kucinich petition]."
That allegation was in fact the website's header, (image above), which read: "DENNIS PAID A PREDATOR To Collect Information About Your Family & Friends." The text was imposed over the image of Kucinich's face. Beneath that ominous message and links to the 2014 police report in Colorado, the website linked to the petitions the circulator gathered: "Click here to check the list and see if this predator knows where your family and friends sleep at night," it beckoned.
The suit characterizes the website as an "intricate construction of volatile art work and explosive text ... designed to incite fear and hatred.... The assertion that a sexual predator used signature-gathering on behalf of [Kucinich] as a ruse to gain information about residents is false and intended to provoke fear among ... voters generally, as it is intended to raise the specter of a potentially reoffending sexual predator suddenly appearing at one’s family home."
The suit notes that the website had no committee identification, as required by Ohio law, and suggests that the selection of San Francisco-based Weebly as a website host was a concealment strategy by the site's creators to escape accountability.
Seeking a minimum of $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, the suit brings three counts: one of libel, one of false light and one of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
This is the second libel suit that Kucinich has filed in connection to the 2021 mayoral campaign. Early in 2022, he sued The Plain Dealer / Cleveland.com
for what he believed was slanderous coverage, especially the paper's false statements (later corrected) that his campaign was financially backed by FirstEnergy.
When reached by Scene, Kucinich directed all questions to his attorney, Andrew Stebbins, of the law firm Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs. Stebbins spoke to Scene briefly by phone Wednesday.
"We stand by the allegations made in the complaint and intend to hold those responsible accountable for their actions," he said.
Those responsible remain, at least for the moment, unknown, and Stebbins would not speculate on the identities of those behind the site. More information will likely be revealed in the legal discovery process.
The suit was first reported by Law360.
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