TOPEKA — A federal judge declined to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed by a former candidate for mayor of Kansas City, Mo., against a Lenexa woman appointed to Kansas’ medical regulatory board by Gov. Sam Brownback.
U.S. District Court Judge Carlos Murguia rejected a motion by attorneys for defendant Annie Hodgdon to toss a suit brought by Clay Chastain, the high-profile proponent of mass transit who lost a mayoral race in 2015.
Chastain maintained Hodgdon, a Republican appointed to the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, posted a “false, vicious and malicious” assertion to Facebook that he attempted to sexually assault her in 1994. He also claimed Hodgdon made the accusation public last year to weaken his campaign to unseat Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James.
In the Facebook article by Hodgdon, she said she rebuffed Chastain’s attempt to kiss her at his home.
“In a split second,” she said in the post, “his good looks transformed into rage and he violently tore my blouse completely open at the buttons.”
She said she struck him with a knee and ran from the residence with Chastain racing after her “screaming like a madman.”
In 2015, Chastain placed third in the primary for Kansas City, Mo., mayor. He subsequently failed in a legal bid to have James dropped from the general election ballot. James coasted to re-election.
Hodgdon’s post to Facebook criticized Chastain for maneuvering to deprive the city of its finest mayor in decades.
Chastain’s suit denied the attempted sexual assault occurred and said Hodgdon acted with malice by making an allegation unsupported by evidence. He said Hodgdon inaccurately claimed she was invited to his home to examine public-transit drawings.
“Hodgdon’s Facebook post painting plaintiff as a potential rapist and a man very dangerous to women was unmistakably made knowing it was false,” he said in court documents.
Todd Graves, an attorney representing Hodgdon, sought the dismissal and contended Chastain failed to demonstrate actual malice. Hodgdon’s counsel also claimed Chastain was “libel proof,” because he admitted in an autobiography to being a womanizer.
“The court disagrees,” the federal judge said in his Aug. 15 ruling. “A womanizer is distinct from someone who sexually assaults or attempts to rape women. Even a mad womanizer could experience harm to his reputation from an accusation of sexual assault or attempted rape.”
Neither Chastain nor Hodgdon were immediately available to comment on the judge’s latest order.
Hodgdon’s service on the Board of Healing Arts caught the attention of Milton Wolf, a Johnson County radiologist who fell short in a Republican primary campaign in 2014 to defeat U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Hodgdon made clear in that race she wasn’t a supporter of Wolf.
In February 2014, the Topeka Capital-Journal published a story about Wolf’s operation of a Facebook page in which he posted X-ray images of gunshot victims and linked them to his jokes about the carnage.
Wolf blamed Hodgdon for disclosure of the politically damaging Facebook content, which had been deleted as Wolf prepared to run for public office. Wolf said Hodgdon was complicit in the Board of Healing Arts’ investigation of Wolf’s use of Facebook.
In a statement, Hodgden said she didn’t “initiate, launch or make any suggestions to the Board of Healing Arts or its staff to conduct an investigation” of Wolf.