Holcomb Cease And Desist Letters Could Lead To Defamation Lawsuit

Dec 3, 2019

Gov. Eric Holcomb (FILE PHOTO: Brandon Smith/IPB News

Gov. Eric Holcomb sent cease and desist letters to Reveal and the Indianapolis Star last week over reports he pressured a state safety inspector into reducing penalties against Amazon.

And a legal expert says those letters could signal an impending lawsuit.

Holcomb’s letters tell the media outlets to retract and correct stories alleging he pressured a safety inspector to clear Amazon of involvement in a worker death.

Indiana University Maurer School of Law’s Joseph Tomain says those letters could be the first step toward a defamation suit.

“Before somebody files a lawsuit for defamation, they have an obligation to request a retraction,” Tomain says.

Holcomb would face an uphill battle in such a suit. Tomain says defamation against a public figure requires what’s called “actual malice” – meaning they have to prove the publisher either knew the information was wrong or recklessly disregarded whether it was true or false.

“That’s a very high burden," Tomain says. "It’s a constitutional burden.”

Holcomb denies any involvement in the Amazon investigation.

Contact Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.