State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling debates on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature. (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with response from the Charles Herbster campaign.
LINCOLN — State Sen. Julie Slama formally responded Monday to a defamation lawsuit filed Friday by Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster. Slama also countersued Herbster, alleging sexual battery.
In an unusual legal move, Slama’s lawyers, Dave Lopez and Marnie Jensen, didn’t wait until Slama had been served with Herbster’s lawsuit before responding to it. She had not been served with the lawsuit as of Monday morning. They are asking to have the lawsuit dismissed with prejudice, which means it could not be filed again.
The dueling lawsuits follow a Nebraska Examiner report published April 14, in which Slama was one of eight women who alleged that Herbster had groped them at political events and beauty pageants over the last six years.
Slama was the only one of the eight women who came forward by name. She confirmed that Herbster had reached up her dress during a political dinner in 2019 and touched her without her consent.
Herbster’s lawsuit alleges that Slama’s comments to the Examiner and her subsequent statements to other news media were part of a “politically motivated and groundless attack,” and says he is seeking to “defend his reputation and good name.”
Slama’s legal response said Herbster’s filing “fails to allege necessary elements of a public libel claim under Nebraska law, and purports to seek damages which are barred by the plain language of the defamation statutes.”
Lopez, in a statement Monday, said Slama’s team would not let Herbster file a “frivolous bad-faith lawsuit that purports to cast doubt on Senator Slama’s account of her sexual assault, use his national media megaphone to herald the existence of that lawsuit for his own gain, but then take no steps to actually serve it and subject himself to the legal accountability such service would trigger.”
In the same statement, Slama’s attorneys said they have notified Herbster they are ready to take his videotaped deposition May 6 at the Johnson County Courthouse in Tecumseh, Nebraska. The state’s primary election is set for May 10.
“We will show this lawsuit for what it is: a frivolous and bad faith attempt to bully a sexual assault victim into silence,” Lopez wrote in the statement. “Charles Herbster chose to subject himself to Nebraska’s judicial system, and Senator Slama will hold him to that choice.”
Herbster’s campaign spokesperson said Monday that he stands by the claims in his lawsuit. “Mr. Herbster will continue to fight against the false accusations and attacks on his character and looks forward to clearing his name and reputation through the legal process,” said the statement by Emily Novotny.
Herbster, in his lawsuit and in public comments, has accused Gov. Pete Ricketts, Slama and the Republican “establishment” of seeking to sully his reputation so that he doesn’t win the GOP race.
After the Examiner’s report was published, Slama talked about the 2019 incident on KFAB radio. In a followup report April 19, three people spoke to the Examiner on the record to confirm three of the eight women’s accounts, including Slama’s.
Slama’s countersuit states, “Shortly after Slama entered the Dinner and as she was heading to her table, she felt Herbster’s hand reach up her dress and inappropriately touch her. Slama in no way consented to Herbster reaching up her dress or touching her.”
Slama is seeking damages for her personal reputation and psychological care.
Ricketts, who appointed Slama to the Legislature, pointed out Monday that eight women are making allegations against Herbster, not just Slama alone.
Herbster “clearly needs to, in my opinion, seek help and drop out of the race,” Ricketts told reporters at an unrelated press conference. “That’s the right thing to do.”
Nebraska Examiner senior reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this report.PDFSlama lawsuit
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