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State Senate campaign ad argued in Supreme Court

CARSON CITY — An attorney for a candidate who ran unsuccessfully against Reno state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer in the 2014 GOP primary argued to the Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday that a campaign ad linking the lawmaker to Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid was not defamatory.

Chuck Kozak said his client, Gary Schmidt, based the link between Kieckhefer and his alleged support of Reid’s 2010 re-election battle against Republican Sharron Angle on a 2010 newspaper article. That article referenced Kieckhefer’s support of the state Senate leadership role of the late Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who had supported Reid in his 2010 race.

Kozak said there was a “strong inference” that the ad saying Kieckhefer supported and endorsed Reid in 2010 was accurate. Kozak is a former legal counsel to Angle.

Kieckhefer sued Schmidt over the ad and won a district court ruling a few days before the primary that required Schmidt to pull the commercial from further broadcast. The court found that Kieckhefer was likely to prevail on his defamation claims, and that he was likely to suffer “irreparable injury to his career and reputation” if the ads were allowed to continue.

Kieckhefer won the primary and was re-elected to a four-year term in the 2014 general election.

Schmidt tried to get Kieckhefer’s case dismissed based on Nevada’s anti-SLAPP statute, which is intended to stop frivolous lawsuits that are filed to chill free speech. He called the lower court ruling by Washoe District Judge Patrick Flanagan prior restraint on political free speech. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Schmidt then appealed the lower court’s decision to deny his motion to dismiss Kieckhefer’s lawsuit to the state Supreme Court.

But attorney Adam Hosmer-Henner, representing Kieckhefer, said the lower court finding that there was clear and convincing evidence supporting the lawmaker’s likelihood of prevailing in the case if it were to proceed to trial should be upheld.

Hosmer-Henner said the article in question was clear that Kieckhefer supported Raggio’s continued leadership position in the state Senate and in no way referenced any support of Reid.

Schmidt has raised no defense or privilege that would defeat Kieckhefer’s defamation claims, he said.

The court will rule later in the case.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801

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