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City attorney loses lawsuit against political candidate over ‘incestuous relationship’ comment

Rigby

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RIGBY — Rigby City Attorney Robin Dunn lost his personal lawsuit against a former Jefferson County Commissioner candidate for using the term “incestuous relationship” in reference to him during a debate.

District Judge Darren Simpson issued a ruling in favor of former candidate Tyron “Ty” Belnap, saying Dunn did not provide enough evidence to support a defamatory statement towards a public official. Dunn was ordered to pay Belnap’s $140.08 court costs and both men are responsible for their own attorney fees, according to court records.

“The fact this Court does not believe Belnap’s statements would be taken for anything other than a criticism of a public official’s handling of public affairs does not evaluate Dunn’s complaint to the level of frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation,” Simpson wrote in the ruling. “Dunn, although particularly sensitive to Belnaop’s criticism, believed he had been defamed thereby.”

Dunn filed the lawsuit in May 2020 after Belnap said in an April 2020 candidate forum that he wanted to end the “incestuous relationship between the Jefferson County prosecutor and the city of Rigby attorney,” according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by EastIdahoNews.com. Dunn claimed the statement was slanderous, hurt his character and caused him humiliation.

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In court filings, Dunn said the statement of “incestuous” rises to the level of slander. Dunn listed the Webster’s Dictionary definition of incest, which is “sexual intercourse between (people) too closely related to marry legally.” He wrote that Webster’s defines incestuous as being “guilty of incest” or “having the nature of incest.”

The dictionary also defines incestuous as “excessively or improperly intimate or exclusive,” according to Merriam-Webster’s website, which is how Belnap said his words should be interpreted.

Because Dunn was viewed as a public figure in Simpson’s ruling, the judge said the statement was neither defamatory nor libelous as they dealt with public concern.

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