Written by GRANT SCHULTE, Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Republican candidate for governor of Nebraska, backed by former President Donald Trump, filed a defamation lawsuit Friday against a GOP lawmaker accusing him of groping her at a local party event in 2019.
Charles W. Herbster’s campaign alleges in the lawsuit that State Senator Julie Slama falsely accused him and damaged his reputation in order to derail her campaign ahead of the hot May 10 state GOP preselections.
The lawsuit in the state district court describes Herbster as “the victim of a politically motivated and unjustified 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 Senator Brett Lindstrom, among others. Pillen won the support of prominent party functionaries, including Straw and multimillionaire Governor Pete Ricketts, who sharply criticized Herbster for not qualifying for the job and admitted to spending money on ads with dark money against him.
Straw said Herbster, a wealthy business owner and a loyal Trump ally, reached under her lap and groped her at the Elephants Memories Annual Dinner in Omaha when she was 22 years old. The Nebraska Examiner, an online, nonprofit news agency, first reported the allegations, along with similar allegations by seven other women. None of the others were publicly identified and the Associated Press could not confirm their accounts.
Straw publicly admitted her accusations against Herbster, having previously mentioned the incident in a February speech, although she did not name Herbster at the time. She later confirmed the Nebraska Examiner’s report on the incident, saying she did not want attention, but would not lie about it.
Straw did not return a message late Friday asking for comment on the lawsuit.
Her lawyer, Dave Lopez, said Slama had not yet been served with the lawsuit. Lopez said Herbster’s lawsuit would expose him to “the full extent of civil discovery”, in which he would be forced to answer questions about his behavior under oath.
“Certainly, any claim that calls into question Senator Slame’s well-confirmed report of her sexual assault by Charles Herbster would be categorically unfounded and frivolous,” Lopez said. “Sen. Straw will resolutely defend himself against any such lawsuit.”
Lopez said Slama “strongly opposed any attempt at a trial by law to scare the victims away from telling the truth.”
Herbster said in the lawsuit that the allegations “lack a shred of credibility” and damaged his reputation.
“The plaintiff would never and would never engage in the kind of conduct he is accused of,” Herbster’s lawyer wrote.
The lawsuit requires indefinite damages.
Herbster is generally considered the main candidate for governor and boasted support from Trump, who remains popular in Republican-dominated Nebraska. The allegations against him came at a time when Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. was visiting Nebraska in the campaign for Herbster. The former president is also expected to visit the country on Friday at an event attended by Herbster.
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