Nebraska politician, accuser drop lawsuits over grope claims

FILE - Nebraska state Sen. Julie Slama, a co-sponsor of the Citizens for Voter ID ballot initiative, waits as more people sign the ballot petition to require voters to show a government-issued identification at the polls at a local Republican Party meeting, Sept. 2, 2021, in Papillion, Neb. Dueling lawsuits have been dropped by Charles W. Herbster, a former Nebraska candidate for governor, and Slama, a fellow Republican state lawmaker who accused him of groping her at a political function several years ago. (AP Photo/Grant Schulte, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Dueling lawsuits have been dropped by a former Nebraska candidate for governor and a fellow Republican state lawmaker who accused him of groping her at a political function several years ago.

Charles W. Herbster, who lost his bid in May to become the Republican nominee for governor despite an early endorsement from former President Donald Trump, sued state Sen. Julie Slama for defamation. That came after Slama told the Nebraska Examiner that, in 2019, Herbster reached under her skirt and groped her at the Douglas County Republican Party event when she was 22.

Slama was one of eight women who accused Herbster of unwanted groping, but Slama was the only one to go on the record with her name. Herbster denied the allegations and painted them as a politically motivated attack.

Slama quickly countersued, accusing Herbster of sexual battery. The competing lawsuits had largely stalled in the months since being filed, with both sides seeking delays.

Online court records show that both sides on Wednesday submitted a motion to dismiss their lawsuits with prejudice, meaning they can't be refiled. On Thursday, the judge granted the motion. Neither the motion nor the judge's order addressed why the parties sought to dismiss their respective lawsuits.

An attorney for Slama confirmed the dismissal Friday, but declined to answer questions on what led to the dismissal, saying the firm “will make no further statement on the matter.”

Attorneys for Herbster did not immediately return phone messages Friday seeking comment.

The accusations of sexual misconduct against Herbster and subsequent lawsuits exposed deep divisions in the state Republican Party.

Herbster had been seen as a strong front-runner through much of the primary, thanks to the early endorsement of Trump. But the accusations of unwanted groping proved damaging — even after Trump came to Nebraska for a rally to help bolster the embattled Herbster.

Most of Nebraska's Republican establishment, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, backed the eventual winner of the gubernatorial primary: hog producer and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. Several female Republican state lawmakers set up a legal fund to help the women who accused Herbster.

At least one GOP lawmaker, Omaha Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, labeled Herbster “a predator.”

Two months after Herbster was defeated in the primary election, hard feelings within the state party boiled over at the state Republican Party convention, at which longtime state Chairman Dan Welch was voted out, leading other top party leaders to resign.