The Tennessee Republican Party may soon find itself drawn into an ongoing case for which Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and his chief of staff, Chip Saltsman, have already been named defendants.
Gary Blackburn, the attorney representing plaintiff Mark Winslow in the 2011 defamation case, told Nooga.com he was preparing to file a motion for partial summary judgment that the Republican party breached its contract with Winslow—an action that could potentially result in the party's addition as a defendant in the case.
Blackburn said his motion could be filed as early as today.
When filed, the motion will include recent depositions from both Fleischmann and Saltsman, who appeared twice before a judge to request that transcripts of their testimonies be sealed.
The interviews of both Fleischmann and Saltsman are in reference to how Saltsman, a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, allegedly obtained confidential employment records for Winslow, who left a party position in 2010 to serve as media director for the congressional campaign of former state party Chairwoman Robin Smith. During the heated 2010 Republican primary, records of Winslow's severance compensation were distributed to various media outlets, whose stories were then used by Fleischmann's campaign in attack ads weeks before the election, accusing Smith of granting "lavish bonuses" to her staff.
Fleischmann narrowly won the primary, by 1,415 votes.
Records show that on March 12, Fleischmann and Saltsman requested their depositions be sealed and designated as "confidential." Although the interviews are focused on the 2010 primary, the request was made out of interest to Fleischmann's current bid for re-election, in which he is facing five primary challengers.
"As the court is aware, 2012 is an election year," the motion for protective order reads. "With that being said, the discovery from Saltsman [written discovery and deposition testimony] and the deposition of Mr. Fleischmann are relevant and significant to Mr. Fleischmann's re-election campaign; therefore, the defendant has a right to keep such documents confidential."
Another brief in support of the motion, filed in April, mentions that Fleischmann was asked during his deposition to provide copies of all polling that was conducted during his 2010 campaign.
"The testimony of Mr. Fleischmann during his deposition involved matters about which a reasonable need for privacy exists," it reads. "Specifically, the testimony involved insight into the inner workings of how his campaign was run."
The motion for protective order was denied because of Fleischmann's standing as a publicly elected official.
A spokesman for Fleischmann declined to comment on the case, citing ongoing legal proceedings. A spokesman for the Tennessee Republican Party also declined to comment, describing the party's perspective on the case at this point as a "speculative legal matter."
Blackburn offered no predictions as to whether the party might be added as a defendant to the case should the court rule in favor of his motion for partial summary judgment.
"My client [Winslow] is a Republican," he said. "He's a steadfast Republican, and he wouldn't make the decision lightly to bring in the party. He's certainly not eager to sue the party. It may come to that, for reasons beyond our control, but he's not eager to do it."