The lawsuit was filed by University of Mississippi Professor James Thomas will proceed.
Hinds County Circuit Court Judge E. Faye Peterson has denied State Auditor Shad White’s motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought against him by Ole Miss professor James Thomas.
The Auditor had argued in his motion that he is granted absolute immunity when there are liabilities attached to the duties of his political office. However, the judge disagreed.
“No absolute privilege for any and all comments, only those made during legislative, judicial and military proceedings,” said Judge Peterson in the decision. “Hence, Shad White is not entitled to absolute immunity for any and all statements which he makes as a state government official.”
The judge went on to add that the immunity theory has also not been taken up in Mississippi’s courts, a point Auditor White also mentioned when making his argument.
The order read:
“The Court finds that the allegations as stated in Plaintiff’s Complaint are sufficiently pled. The Court, further, finds that declaratory relief is an available remedy, though premature at this point in the litigation.”
The lawsuit was filed in December by the University of Mississippi professor, the same month a demand was made to Thomas by the State Auditor’s office for his participation in a “work stoppage.”
In that situation, White said that Mississippi’s no-strike law prevents a state employee, which university professors are, from participating in ‘concerted work stoppages.’
“It’s simple—the taxpayers of Mississippi cannot pay someone when they did not provide the good or service they were hired to provide,” said White in a statement at the time of the demand letter.
The Auditor’s letter also encouraged the University of Mississippi to consider terminating the tenured professor.
In Thomas’ defamation suit, he argues that his participation in the strike was intended to highlight racism and injustice and was not pertaining to his own work environment. There is no monetary request made in the suit. That determination will be left up to a jury.
His attorney, Rob McDuff with the Mississippi Center for Justice, says that Auditor White falsely claimed that Thomas violated the law.
McDuff has been at the center of a number of cases recently, namely representing the now closed abortion clinic in their challenge against Mississippi’s trigger law following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. McDuff also represents the Mississippi Free Press in their complaint before the Ethics Commission regarding the House Republican Caucus.
Auditor White originally moved to have the suit dismissed arguing that the judgement would be improper because “there are no ongoing legal relations between the parties to be clarified or settled.”
“Auditor White and his counsel are reviewing the court order and will continue defense against this lawsuit. Auditor White absolutely has a right to tell people when they misspend money, which is what Thomas’s lawsuit is about,” said Fletcher Freeman, Communications Director for the State Auditor’s office.
View the order below: