Judge dismisses Lively case against Baker, GOP

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (State House News Service) – A lawsuit brought by conservative Springfield pastor Scott Lively against Gov. Charlie Baker, the state Republican Party and others has been dismissed in Superior Court, resolving allegations that the party violated its neutrality rules by helping Baker during the 2018 primary.

Superior Court Judge Susan Sullivan last week dismissed all claims brought by Lively, who challenged Baker for the GOP’s nomination for governor last year and sued over what he saw as a violation of his rights as a candidate.

Lively accused the party of violating its neutrality rules by helping the incumbent with money and resources to gather signatures, raise campaign funds and round up endorsements. He sued last May, seeking $7 million in damages. 

“We said from the beginning that we didn’t believe anybody had done anything wrong and we felt his claims were baseless and we fought the lawsuit and we won and we won on the facts and on the law, exactly as it should be, all counts,” Baker said Monday.

The anti-gay pastor also accused Baker and House Minority Leader Brad Jones of defaming him during the course of the campaign, and discriminating against him based on his religious beliefs. 

Sullivan, who was appointed to the bench by Baker in 2018, rejected those arguments.

“Actions were taken in the context of a political primary, not because the defendants were discriminating against Lively’s religious beliefs,” Sullivan wrote in her decision.

The dismissal was dated last Tuesday and entered on Friday, June 28. Lively, who did not respond to an email seeking comment, could still appeal, and Sullivan gave defendants the ability to pursue reimbursement from Lively’s campaign for its legal defense costs. 

The defendants included Baker, his campaign committee, former MassGOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes, former MassGOP Executive Director Matthew St. Hillaire, House Minority Leader Brad Jones Jr. and Kevin McNamara, a party employee.

The lawsuit has been hanging over the party and Baker’s campaign for over a year.

Even though Baker easily defeated Lively in the primary with 64 percent of the Republican vote, Lively’s lawsuit has continued to cost Baker’s campaign and the party tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The governor’s campaign in late May reported paying almost $127,000 for legal consulting to Hunton Andrews Kurth – the firm of former Democratic Attorney General Thomas Reilly, who represented him with a team of lawyers in the case. 

Baker also paid over $54,000 to the Washington, D.C. firm of Wiley Rein and $7,500 the Virginia firm Ashby Law. The legal costs incurred by the governor were first documented by the Boston Globe, along with the MassGOP’s transfer of $141,000 to a legal defense fund for use, at least in part, for Lively’s lawsuit.

Sullivan’s ruling maintained the right of the MassGOP to waive its neutrality bylaws by a two-thirds vote of the executive committee, including in cases when steps may have been taken prior to a vote to assist one candidate over another in a primary.

Lively had accused St. Hillaire, who now works at the MBTA, of verbally committing to him in January 2018 to remain neutral in the race, only to then see the party expend resources on signature gathering for Baker. 

Party funds, according to Lively, also went toward fundraisers and helping to secure the support of local Republican committees and politicians for Baker.

After Lively wrote to the party in February requesting that it stop helping his opponent, Jones, a North Reading Republican, organized a vote of the executive committee to waive its neutrality bylaws in order to support Baker and oppose Lively.

“It sickens me to think that we would be extorted into putting our Party’s resources – and, more importantly, the credibility of our institution, our elected officials, and our candidates – behind someone who appeared in a state-owned Russian TV propaganda video, claims that the Holocaust was perpetrated by homosexuals, and is credited with inspiring Ugandan laws that made homosexuality a crime punishable by death,” Jones wrote.

The court rejected Lively’s assertion that Jones’s comments amounted to defamation and discrimination based on religiously held views on sexuality. The judge said she found nothing to suggest that Jones made any statements that he knew to be untrue.

“Best Fourth of July present I could get,” Jones said Monday, when asked about the ruling. “I’m thrilled. I thought they were without merit in the first place and I’m glad the court ruled.”

Jones said he didn’t know whether Lively would appeal, but said, “It’s good news and hopefully this wraps that up and people can move on to other things.”

Sullivan similarly rejected allegations of defamations against Baker, who after the MassGOP convention in April 2018 said, “There’s no place and no point in public life, in any life, for a lot of the things Scott Lively says and believes.”

The judge wrote, “Baker’s statement is not defamatory, because he is clearly expressing his opinion about aspects of Lively’s beliefs and statements.”

Neither Baker’s campaign nor the party wanted to comment on their legal victory, but in a legal memo filed with the court in February, Reilly accused Lively of making “extortive demands” of the MassGOP in order raise money off the publicity from the lawsuit for his campaign.

Reilly wrote that Lively’s intent was not to win the case, but to pursue a “frivolous” lawsuit for an “ulterior and illegitimate purpose.”

“If Lively was so upset with, and harmed by, ‘the actions of the defendant,’ why did he post about them regularly on his website? The reason is obvious: Lively is using this lawsuit to generate support for his candidacy ….and to obtain financial and other concessions from the Republican Party,” Reilly wrote.

Since losing to Baker, Lively’s email list has remained active and he briefly explored a run for Congress, which he said he might do in any of the state’s nine Congressional districts. Lively, however, abandoned those ambitions in May when he blamed Baker’s control over the MassGOP as an insurmountable obstacle.

“As long as Progressive Charlie Baker controls the party, no true conservative will have actual party support for any of the top offices in Massachusetts, but instead will be sabotaged by the Baker Machine,” Lively wrote in an email to his supporters list.

While Lively said he’s giving up on 2020, he did not rule out another run for public office in 2022.

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