OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Republican Nebraska governor candidate who is backed by former President Donald Trump filed a defamation lawsuit Friday against a GOP state lawmaker who accused him of groping her at a local party event in 2019.
The campaign of Charles W. Herbster alleges in the lawsuit that state Sen. Julie Slama falsely accused him and hurt his reputation in an effort to derail his campaign ahead of the state GOP's hotly contested May 10 primary.
The suit in state district court describes Herbster as “the victim of a politically motivated and groundless attack by a political opponent, who resorted to false and malicious lies” accusing him of scandalous behavior.
Herbster is locked in a competitive race with University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen and state Sen. Brett Lindstrom, among other candidates. Pillen won the endorsement of prominent party officials, including Slama and multimillionaire Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has sharply criticized Herbster as unqualified for the job and has acknowledged that he has spent money on dark-money ads against him.
Slama has said Herbster, a wealthy business owner and loyal Trump ally, reached under her skirt and groped her at the Douglas County Republican Party's annual Elephant Remembers dinner in Omaha when she was 22 years old. The Nebraska Examiner, an online, nonprofit news outlet, first reported the accusations, along with similar charges from seven other women. None of the others have been publicly identified and The Associated Press hasn't been able to confirm their accounts.
Slama has publicly acknowledged her allegations against Herbster and previously alluded to the incident in a February floor speech, although she didn't name Herbster at the time. She later confirmed the Nebraska Examiner's reporting of the incident, saying she didn't want the attention but wasn't going to lie about it.
Slama did not return a message late Friday seeking comment about the lawsuit.
Her attorney, Dave Lopez, said Slama has not yet been served with the lawsuit. Lopez said Herbster's lawsuit will expose him to “the full scope of civil discovery,” in which he would be forced to answer questions about his behavior under oath.
“To be sure, any claim that calls into question Sen. Slama's well-corroborated account of her sexual assault by Charles Herbster would be categorically without merit and frivolous,” Lopez said. “Sen. Slama will vigorously defend herself against any such lawsuit.”
Lopez said Slama “will stand strong against any attempt to weaponize the judicial process to scare victims from coming forward to share the truth.”
In the lawsuit, Herbster said the accusations “lack even a shred of credibility” and have damaged his reputation.
“Plaintiff has never and would never engage in this type of conduct of which he is accused," Herbster's attorney wrote.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Herbster is widely viewed as a top contender for governor and has flaunted the endorsement of Trump, who remains popular in Republican-dominated Nebraska. The accusations against him surfaced around the time Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. visited Nebraska to campaign for Herbster. The former president is also expected to visit the state Friday at an event featuring Herbster.
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