Lawsuit Against Murtha Moves Ahead

Posted October 26, 2007 at 6:15pm

A defamation lawsuit against Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) over his comments about unnamed Marines involved in the Haditha incident in Iraq continued to move forward last week despite his lawyer’s attempts to quash it.

Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich sued Murtha in August 2006, alleging that Murtha “publicly and falsely accused” the Marines of “cold-blooded murder and war crimes” without facts to support that claim.

Murtha has until Nov. 5 to produce documents requested by Wuterich’s lawyer Mark Zaid. Zaid has made 24 documents, including materials having to do with conversations Murtha had with military officials and staff regarding the Haditha incident, his campaign activities with regards to comments he made about Haditha, and Murtha’s schedule between March 1 and Aug. 10, 2006.

At a status hearing Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darrell Valdez, representing Murtha on behalf of the Justice Department, was issued a notice of deposition for Murtha on Nov. 27.

Murtha’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Murtha’s lawyers are expected to try to appeal U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s Sept. 25 decision to proceed with limited document discovery and for Murtha to provide sworn testimony in the case. The U.S. attorney’s office is waiting for approval from the Department of Justice to move forward with appealing the decision to let the lawsuit continue.

Murtha’s lawyers have argued that his actions fit under the purview of his official duties. If the district court or the D.C. appeals court finds that Murtha was acting in his official capacity when he made the Haditha comments, the U.S. government would be substituted for Murtha as a defendant, which would mean the case would essentially be finished because the United States cannot be sued for libel or slander.

If Murtha’s lawyers try to appeal the case, they will have to move to stay discovery and the deposition, or they’ll be in contempt of court for ignoring Collyer’s order, according to Zaid.

Wuterich’s lawyer is arguing that the comments were made “outside of Mr. Murtha’s Scope of employment as a Congressman,” according to court documents.