- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A state district judge is considering whether to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by a former Wyoming schools superintendent against a former U.S. House candidate.

Judge Thomas Campbell heard arguments Wednesday on a motion by Tim Stubson to dismiss the lawsuit filed against him by Cindy Hill.

Hill contends that Stubson made malicious and false statements about her during his U.S. House campaign last year. Stubson, also a former state legislator from Casper, lost in the Republican primary to Liz Cheney, who went on to win the seat in the general election.

Stubson’s comments included a remark that Hill had committed “illegal” acts while she was superintendent, according to Hill’s lawsuit.

Stubson’s attorney, Monty Barnett, argued that any comments made by Stubson about Hill are protected political speech, noting that they occurred in the context of a political campaign and during a political debate.

“This is a First Amendment free speech case,” Barnett said.

He said the lawsuit is “little more than a retaliatory strike” at Stubson.

Hill’s attorney, her husband Drake Hill, argued that Stubson made maliciously false statements about Hill that are not protected free speech.

Stubson’s characterization of Cindy Hill’s actions as “illegal” implies criminal behavior that harmed her reputation, Drake Hill said.

“Calling that person a criminal is defamation per se,” he said.

The comments by Stubson concerned the controversy over removing Cindy Hill as administrator of the state Education Department while she was state superintendent of public instruction. Stubson was a member of the Legislature in 2013 when a law was passed and signed by Gov. Matt Mead, removing the state superintendent as head of the agency.

The law was passed after high-ranking lawmakers and Mead clashed with Hill over how she was running the department. Stubson was among those who supported removing Hill.

Hill challenged the law in a lawsuit and a divided Wyoming Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Judge Campbell also was involved in that 2013 lawsuit, denying Hill’s request to stop enforcement of the law until a court decision was rendered in the lawsuit.

Hill later challenged Mead in the 2014 GOP primary and lost.

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