ARLENE VIOLET - What's legal isn't necessarily ethical

ARLENE VIOLET - What's legal isn't necessarily ethical

Two stories last week illustrate the adage that what may be legal isn't necessarily ethical. Indeed, two men, both Democrat operatives, engaged in tawdry tricks during an election. Their respective chest-thumping about their purported vindication or soon to be vindication show just how far these two pillars of society have fallen.

Case Number 1 involves Robert Horowitz, a veteran campaign consultant for Democratic candidates. Recently, he had a misdemeanor charge dismissed on constitutional grounds involving his sabotage of a candidate's election attempt. Mind you, I am not debating the constitutionality decision but rather ruminating about his conduct and his retort after the case was dismissed. Here's what happened.

Mr. Horowitz timed an email blitz and a campaign flier to voters to arrive on the eve of the 2012 election in Smithfield against the Republican candidate, James Archer. The literature displayed a police report that led to Mr. Archer's arrest. It neglected to mention that at the time of its sending, a judge had dismissed the charges. The material also attacked another Republican candidate for the purported "crime" of a nephew. Both Republicans lost. No doubt, there was much merriment in the Horowitz camp that the dirty tactics resulted in a victory for his candidates.

Mr. Horowitz also celebrated his victory by calling the complaint lodged against him for the anonymous attacks as "sour grapes." He added, "All my actions were legal and appropriate." (Providence Journal, Jan. 12, 2014). It is, indeed, sad to see a grown man justify his anonymous actions defaming a candidate when there was no time for that candidate to respond to the half-story about him. Dragging a relative's alleged offense into an election is also reprehensible since no nexus was established between the nephew's activity and that of the candidate. Mr. Horowitz was quick to make sure that his record was sealed so nobody can find out what the testimony was in his trial before a magistrate.

Readers of this column also know that John Leidecker, the now deputy director of the National Education Association, seeks to have his conviction of cyber-stalking based on his surreptitious actions overturned also on First Amendment grounds. He sent out emails with a facsimile email address similar to that of state Rep. Douglas Gablinske which totally misrepresented the Bristol incumbent's position on bridge tolls. He disguised his falsity by mimicking an email address which a reasonable person could conclude came from Rep. Gablinske.

Nobody, least of all me, wants to stifle political speech. There is a slippery slope, however, where half-truths and downright lies are tolerated as acceptable political debate. Both Horowitz and Leidecker have lost their moral compass when they engage in guttersnipe tactics and then excoriate the subjects of their attack. Whatever happened to debating folks on the merit of their positions as opposed to making things up and ambushing them with attenuated "facts"?

These men may eventually be able to escape the consequences of their lies because of the sanctity of the First Amendment, but their being proud of their tactics is something else again. With the ginning up of a new campaign season voters can probably expect a blizzard of false charges now that these individuals may escape the clutches of the law. Hopefully, candidates will curb these deceits, and, if not, the voters should box them in the ears by voting for the maligned opponent.

Violet is an attorney and former attorney general.