Although he had somehow avoided being personally served with a summons to court regarding what newly reelected 9th District congressman Steve Cohen regarded as purposely misleading campaign ads, Williams turned up Monday in the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams for a hearing on the matter.
Judge Williams (no relation to the defendant) had issued a temporary restraining order against the offending ads earlier this month in response to a complaint from the Cohen campaign that the ads deceptively indicated that both President Obama and the Democratic National Committee had endorsed Cohen’s unsuccessful Democratic primary opponent, lawyer Ricky Wilkins.
In fact, Cohen and not Wilkins had been the recipient of an Obama endorsement, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC, had also endorsed the incumbent congressman. In both a TV commercial and in a series of near-billboard sized signs, LaTroy Williams had confused the issue by using labels of non-functioning shell organizations like “National Democratic Party U.S.A.” and by juxtaposing images of the President and Wilkins to imply endorsements of Wilkins that had not occurred.
Judge Williams concurred with Cohen’s campaign staff, which has formally brought the legal action, and issued a cease-and-desist order on election eve. Monday’s hearing was to determine whether a permanent injunction should be issued against LaTroy Williams, who makes much of his living by selling places on sample ballots to candidates for public office at election time.
These ballots, which are put out by Williams and by numerous local competitors, customarily use the word “Democratic” to imply official party endorsements that in many, perhaps most, cases have not occurred.
The upshot of Monday’s hearing was that Judge Williams, who did not run for reelection and is shortly to leave office, left the temporary restraining order in place and continued the case regarding a permanent injunction for 30 days. It apparently has been transferred to the docket of incoming Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey.
In Monday’s preliminary hearing, Williams argued that he was the legitimate proprietor of several names used for his ballots and ads and that all of these titles were on file with the Tennessee Secretary of State. The Cohen team, represented in court Monday by campaign treasurer Henry Turley and by lawyers Don Donati and Hayden Laitt, do not dispute that Williams has legally registered such names but that Williams is using the names of several shell organizations to wrongly imply official Democratic (or, in the case of one shell organization, Republican) auspices.
As Judge Williams, responding to LaTroy Williams’ protestations, said, “I cannot say that Don Donati endorsed so-and-so, because I am not Don Donati.”
The case has been reset for September 25 in Bailey’s court.