Richard Baird, Michigan’s “Transformation Manager”, and cry baby and chief, has broadened his temper tantrum to include legal threats to newspapers for printing op-eds about his double-dipping on his primary property tax exemptions. True, it was subsequently found that a township clerical error was technically responsible, and the situation was properly remedied as prescribed by Michigan law. However it is worth stating, this is the kind of error that should not occur under the watchful eye of a high level public servant.
He recently threatened Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-23), and AFL-CIO President Karla Swift, with SLAPP suits claiming false light over their public criticism of his ethics, and we now learn he’s sending out additional nasty-grams to the Detroit Free Press and the Lansing State Journal demanding retractions.
Thing is, Baird lacks cause of action — that’s legalese for he ain’t gotta a leg to stand on in court. His threatened suits are simply meant to harass — a particularly stupid move as November looms.
A 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, New York Times Co. V. Sullivan, found that public officials can’t just willy-nilly file defamation suits against individuals or newspapers. Explanation from Cornell Law:
Held: A State cannot, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves “actual malice” — that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.
Factual error, content defamatory of official reputation, or both, are insufficient to warrant an award of damages for false statements unless “actual malice” — knowledge that statements are false or in reckless disregard of the truth — is alleged and proved.
The moment he officially went on the state payroll, Mr. Baird became a public sector figure, and subject to this ruling.
Proving “actual malice” requires iron-clad evidence that the defendant had prior knowledge that the information was false, and then used it with the intent to do harm. The burden of proof is on Baird, so unless he has some super-secret information indicating a conspiracy, he hasn’t a case. It is curious how the parties he’s accused could have had any prior knowledge of the township’s clerical error, before the township clerk even knew, and reportedly, Baird himself.
Surely his lawyers, (presumably he’s been in close consultation with them on the matter), would have carefully advised him that his threatened suits were legally hollow and could result in political embarrassment to his employer, and possibly draw counter-suits from any future defendants over his vexing and frivolous complaints. And since Baird used an official Michigan.gov email to send one of the threats, that opens-up the state to be named as a defendant in a counter suit.
Curious too, is that among Baird’s multiple threats, sent by fax, snail mail, second-party email, and voice mail — they were all generated by himself, and not a law firm…not even copied-in to one. Odd behavior for someone entrusted with top-level state business.
In closing, Democracy Tree would like to thank Mr. Baird for creating a situation in which newspapers across the state will likely harbor ill-will towards him, and by the power of transference, his boss — Gov. Snyder, for not firing him in a timely manner.
Yep, timing is everything in election season. Pissing-off the media is just the ticket to motivate editorial boards when it comes to endorsements.
Plus, it puts Snyder in the position where he either must admit failure by dumping his top aide, or take the political fire for not doing so.
And Rick thought he could just sit this one out.