- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - A former Florida official who said she was defamed by a campaign flyer from a political operative has lost her lawsuit.

Shanon Materio, the former West Palm Beach commissioner, lost an October 2018 lawsuit filed against political consultant, Rick Asnani, and two affiliated companies, The Palm Beach Post reported.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday the campaign flyer, which accused Materio of having an illegal tax exemption on a home in another county, was protected under free speech laws. Materio had filed the lawsuit after losing her reelection for the commissioner seat in 2018.

“Given the heightened protection afforded the exercise of First Amendment rights in the political arena, this is not enough,” the judge said.

To win her case, Materio had to show Asani knowingly distributed false information without regard to the truth, the court said. The statements in the flyer was arguable since Asnani used public documents to support the claims, the judge added.

The flyer also accused Materio of receiving a $50,000 federal loan that required her to live in the home. Materio had said the house belonged to her parents and nothing improper was done.

At best, Asani demonstrated negligence in not fully investigating the matter, the judge said.

“This suit was without merit from the very beginning,” Asnani said. Since Materio controlled the house as a trustee, it did not matter that her parents lived there, Asani added.

Materio said Wednesday she disagreed with the judge. “Regardless, we will review the order in detail and will determine our next steps, including an appeal, if appropriate,” she added.

The judge did not decide whether to award Asnani attorney’s fees.

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