JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - State Auditor Shad White filed a motion to dismiss a defamation suit brought against him by a University of Mississippi professor.
Attorneys for White submitted the motion on Tuesday in Hinds County Circuit Court, about a month after the Mississippi Center for Justice filed the suit on behalf of professor James Thomas.
The complaint raises a claim of defamation relating to White’s claims that Thomas had violated the state’s no-strike law. According to the Center for Justice, the suit is seeking a declaratory judgment that Thomas did not violate the law.
White, though, claims he is immune under the statute of “the doctrine absolute privilege,” and that Thomas’ suit would prevent him from doing his job.
“As a constitutional executive officer and statewide elected official, (the) defendant should be entitled to the protection of an absolute privilege for statements undertaken in the performance of his official duties,” he writes. “As a matter of law, (the) plaintiff’s allegations of defamation should not be actionable.”
According to court documents, White issued a written demand in December for the sums the “auditor deemed due and owing as a result of (the) plaintiff’s alleged participation in a ‘work stoppage’ in violation of (state statute).”
In all, the auditor demanded about $2,000 be repaid to the state in relation to a two-day “scholar strike” the professor participated in on September 8 and 9.
White also sent a letter to the chancellor of Ole Miss, Dr. Glenn Boyce, saying the professor should be fired.
He later attached that letter in a public tweet, where he again reiterated that Thomas broke state statute.
White also argues that there are no ongoing legal relations between the parties and that Thomas had not alleged “any set of facts whereby a declaratory judgment will afford him relief from any uncertainty, insecurity, or controversy as it relates to the propriety of some future act or conduct.”
Thomas is seeking no damages, only a declaratory judgment that he did not violate the law.
The Center for Justice filed suit in late December weeks after White ordered Thomas to repay the state.