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Home / Maxine Waters

Republican Joe Collins sues Rep. Waters for $100K in attorneys’ fees

A Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, for her seat in November 2020 is seeking nearly $100,000 from the veteran politician and her committee for attorneys’ fees and costs related to his libel and slander lawsuit against her that was reinstated on appeal.

Plaintiff Joe E. Collins III alleged the 85-year-old congresswoman’s campaign materials and radio commercials falsely stated that the Navy veteran was dishonorably discharged. Collins said he served honorably for 13 1/2 years in the Navy, receiving decorations and commendations.

In May, a three-justice panel of the Second District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed an April 2021 ruling by now-retired Judge Yolanda Orozco. During the hearing on Waters’ motion to dismiss the case, the judge told Donna Bullock, Collins’ attorney, that the lawyer had not come close to proving actual malice.

In court papers filed Tuesday with Orozco’s replacement, Judge Serena R. Murillo, Bullock states that her client is entitled to just under $97,100 in attorneys’ fees and costs covering the original litigation and the appeals, including Waters’ unsuccessful petition for review with the state Supreme Court. A hearing on the motion is scheduled Oct. 31.

Waters’ dismissal motion before Orozco was based on the state’s anti- SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — law, which is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

According to the suit, in September 2020 the Citizens for Waters campaign published a two-sided piece of literature with an “unflattering” photo of Collins that stated, “Republican candidate Joe Collins was dishonorably discharged, played politics and sued the U.S. military. He doesn’t deserve military dog tags or your support.”

The reverse side of the ad had a photo of Waters and text complimenting her for her record with veterans, according to the plaintiff.

The dishonorable discharge statement was false because Collins left the Navy by a general discharge under honorable conditions, the suit filed in September 2020 stated.

“The anti-SLAPP motion, the appellate and Supreme Court petitions of the defendants were frivolous and intended to delay and wear out (Collins),” Bullock states in her court papers, adding that the defendants still refuse to accept the truth of military documents proving that the statement about her client’s discharge was false.

“Free speech is vital in America, but truth has a place in the public square as well,” Justice John Shepard Wiley wrote for the three-justice appellate court panel. “Reckless disregard for the truth can create liability for defamation. When you face powerful documentary evidence your accusation is false, when checking is easy, and when you skip the checking but keep accusing, a jury could conclude you have crossed the line.”

Bullock previously said Collins was most concerned all along with veterans’ rights in filing the suit and that Waters or anyone else could have gone online and paid $25 to find out a veteran’s discharge status.

Collins left the Navy as a decorated veteran upon a general discharge under honorable conditions, according to his court papers, which further state that he left the military so he could run for office, which he could not do while on active duty.

In a sworn declaration in favor of dismissing the suit, Waters stated the information was obtained from a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Anello.

“In other words, I am being sued for quoting the written decision of a federal judge in my campaign literature,” said Waters.

Collins met in 2018 with Waters’ staff and provided direct information about his discharge status, according to his suit, which says she “knew or should have known that Collins was not dishonorably discharged and the accusation was made with actual malice.”

The plaintiff also cited a Waters radio campaign commercial that included the congresswoman stating, “Joe Collins was kicked out of the Navy and was given a dishonorable discharge. Oh yes, he was thrown out of the Navy with a dishonorable discharge. Joe Collins is not fit for office and does not deserve to be elected to public office. Please vote for me. You know me.”

Waters stated in the radio ad that Collins’ health benefits were paid for by the Navy, which would not be possible if he had been dishonorably discharged, according to the plaintiff.

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