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Perkins v. Littleton

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 21, 2018

WILLIE J. PERKINS, SR. APPELLANT
v.
JAMES K. LITTLETON APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/23/2017

          LEFLORE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. W. ASHLEY HINES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WILLIE J. PERKINS SR. (PRO SE)

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JAMES K. LITTLETON (PRO SE)

          BEFORE CARLTON, P.J., WILSON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          WILSON, JUDGE

         ¶1. During a lengthy radio advertisement in support of his campaign for circuit court judge, James K. Littleton stated that "the father of one of [his] opponents" had "conspired" with Littleton's family "to go public with [a] family dispute to derail [Littleton's] campaign." Littleton had only two opponents in the election. One opponent's father was deceased. The other opponent's father was Willie K. Perkins Sr. Perkins perceived that Littleton's statement was directed at him, he informed Littleton that the statement was false and demanded a retraction, and he subsequently sued Littleton for defamation.

         ¶2. The Leflore County Circuit Court granted summary judgment for Littleton on the ground that his statement was "not clearly and unmistakably directed toward [Perkins]." We affirm the circuit court's ruling but for different reasons. Littleton's statement was clearly directed at Perkins because it could not have been directed at anyone but Perkins. In addition, there are factual disputes as to whether the statement was false and whether Littleton knew it was false. Nonetheless, we affirm the circuit court's ruling because, as a matter of law, Littleton's statement was not defamatory.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. Perkins and Littleton are both practicing attorneys in Greenwood. Perkins is also a state legislator. Littleton is also a justice court judge.

         ¶4. In 2014, Littleton was one of three candidates for circuit court judge in the Fourth Circuit Court District, Place 3. The other two candidates were Perkins's daughter (Takiyah Perkins) and Carol White-Richard.

         ¶5. In August and September 2014 the Greenwood Commonwealth published articles about a lawsuit that Littleton's mother and sister had filed against Littleton in the Bolivar County Chancery Court. In the lawsuit, Littleton's mother and sister alleged that Littleton had forged deeds related to his deceased father's estate. As the newspaper articles reported, Littleton denied the lawsuit's allegations.

         ¶6. In September 2014, Littleton ran a lengthy advertisement on two local radio stations. In the ad, Littleton stated in part as follows:

This is James Littleton, candidate for Circuit Court Judge of the Fourth District, Place 3. In addressing the story first reported by the Greenwood Commonwealth, I'm not surprised that they would report a misleading and half-truth story as they did.
Now, let's get to the whole truth. First, it was reported that I cursed my mother out. The Commonwealth has been armed with this story for two weeks, and the reporter writing this story has interviewed me, recorded me, but has never asked me to respond to this false allegation. I am a child of God and I am obedient to my parents.
Second, they failed to report that I have known about a conspiracy and meeting between my family and the father of one of my opponents for several months where they conspired to go public with this family dispute to derail my campaign. Prior to being contacted by the Commonwealth, my sister sent derogatory and false comments to one of my campaign workers via facebook and stated she supported Takiyah Perkins for Circuit Court Judge.
I'm aware of the allegations made by my mother who birthed me into this world and my sister that I forged their signatures on various documents in the handling of my deceased father's estate several years ago. I love my mother and my sister but I am disappointed in them. These allegations were made by them approximately one year ago well in advance of my decision to run for circuit judge. I want the voters . . . to know that these allegations are not true, and that I have not forged the signatures of my mother or sister on any document relating to my father's estate.[1]

         ¶7. The following day, Perkins sent Littleton a cease-and-desist letter and demand for retraction. Perkins identified the following statement from the ad as false and defamatory: "I have known about a conspiracy and meeting between my family and the father of one of my opponents for several months where they conspired to go public with this family dispute to derail my campaign." Perkins asserted that the statement clearly was directed toward him because Littleton knew that White-Richard's father was deceased. Perkins asserted that the statement was false because he had never met or spoken to Littleton's mother or sister.

         ¶8. According to Littleton, the ad already was scheduled to stop running on or about the day he received Perkins's letter. Littleton did not retract his statement because he says he believed it to be true. Littleton claims that his mother told him "that she had met with the father of one of his opponents" in an effort to derail his campaign. Littleton also says that his mother did not tell him whose father she met with, and he did not know. Littleton denies that ...


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