A heated legislative race in the Gig Harbor area has spawned a libel suit two weeks before Election Day.
State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, filed a lawsuit Monday accusing Republican challenger Michelle Caldier of making false and libelous claims against him, as well as using a crudely edited image of him to portray him as a “sexual deviant.”
Seaquist’s suit focuses on a claim by the Caldier campaign that Seaquist “was caught secretly taking photos of Caldier.” The lawsuit alleges that Caldier’s campaign ads use “a falsified, altered, photo-shopped image of plaintiff Larry Seaquist, onto which another person’s hands are grafted, holding a camera.”
Seaquist’s lawsuit concedes that the Democratic lawmaker took two cellphone photos of Caldier’s car on a Bremerton street after the two left a meeting at the Kitsap Sun newspaper office in August. But the complaint says Caldier’s campaign wrongly implies Seaquist was engaged in criminal wrongdoing by using the words “caught” and “secretly,” as well as by citing an unsubstantiated police report filed by Caldier as the source of the information.
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Seaquist’s complaint against Caldier also alleges that the digitally altered image of Seaquist is “skillfully, willfully and maliciously designed to give a false impression of (Seaquist) as a sexual deviant or voyeur, and to bring ridicule and scorn upon him.”
“She’s gone so far beyond the facts, we think we need to have a jury look at this,” said Anthony Otto, a Port Orchard lawyer representing Seaquist. “She’s totally untethered at this point in terms of reality.”
Otto said that Seaquist photographed Caldier’s white Lexus convertible after an Aug. 29 meeting the two candidates attended, but only because “it’s a really cool car.” The hard-top roof folds into three pieces to automatically retract into the trunk. According to Seaquist’s suit, neither of the two photos Seaquist took that day captured a clear image of Caldier, who was in the vehicle at the time.
Caldier confronted Seaquist about his photos at the time of the incident, and a week later filed a report with the Bremerton Police Department alleging harassment. In the report, a police officer wrote that he told Caldier that “Seaquist has not committed any crime.”
Yet in TV and printed advertisements, Caldier’s campaign cited the police report as the source for its statements that Seaquist was caught secretly photographing her.
In a prepared statement Tuesday, Caldier called the lawsuit “frivolous,” and said she felt “threatened and intimidated” by Seaquist’s actions. She told police she has also had problems with people photographing her home in Port Orchard and trespassing there.
“Too often those in power believe they are above the law, and respond with anger and attacks when held accountable for their behavior,” the statement from Caldier said. “I will not be bullied, and will stand firm with others who have been victims of similar harassment and intimidation by those in positions of authority and public power.”
Seaquist’s lawsuit requests that Caldier pay damages to compensate him for his loss of reputation and for “infliction of mental and emotional distress.” The lawsuit also is requesting that Caldier cover Seaquist’s attorney fees.
Seaquist, 76, is a retired U.S. Navy officer who has been in the Legislature since 2007. Caldier, 38, is a dentist from Port Orchard who is seeking election to the state House for the first time.
The two candidates are competing to represent the 26th Legislative District, which includes Gig Harbor, the Key Peninsula, Port Orchard and Bremerton. Caldier came within 2 percentage points of Seaquist in the August primary, indicating the results of the Nov. 4 general election could be close.