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Judge reinstates verdict against former sheriff
Hendrix must pay $3.6 million
Hendrix Denny NEWER
Denny Hendrix - photo by Submitted
One decade and three federal appeals court appearances later, part of a multi-million dollar libel judgment against a former Forsyth County sheriff has been reinstated.

In an order signed Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. ruled that Dennis “Denny” Hendrix must pay Danny Bennett $3.6 million.

In May 2007, a federal jury ruled in favor of defamation claims by Bennett and Danny Reid, who maintained that Hendrix had libeled them in campaign materials from a 2000 election.

The jury awarded Bennett $3.6 million and Reid $3.1 million.

In November 2007, Thrash overruled the jury’s decision, siding with an appeal filed by Hendrix.

Eric Chofnas, the attorney representing Bennett and Reid, was optimistic Friday that the judge’s decision “will be a big step toward finally resolving the litigation.”

“Basically, after all the appeals and 10 years of litigation, what’s left is $3.6 million plus interest and costs on Bennett’s defamation claim,” Chofnas said.

Hendrix’s attorney, Cynthia Matthews Daley, said they are considering appealing the case.

“We’re evaluating all the options at this point,” she said.

While it was originally thought the county’s insurance would cover the money owed in the judgment, Daley said she was not sure how the matter would be handled.

Court records show Westport Insurance Co. has filed suit against Hendrix and asked to be released from any obligation to cover his costs.
Daley said she is not involved in that case.

In its complaint, the company asserts it is not responsible because the campaign was not part of Hendrix’s duties as sheriff.

In his order, Thrash noted that the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals remanded the case to him “with instructions to consider the issues it did not address from Hendrix’s motion for judgment as a matter of law.”

The case stems from the 2000 Forsyth County sheriff’s election.

Bennett and Reid sued Hendrix that September for fliers used prior to the August 2000 runoff election against Ted Paxton.

The fliers featured mug shots of the two men, both of whom contributed to Paxton’s campaign, and other county residents.

Those pictured were labeled as “criminals” on the fliers and one was labeled a “convicted criminal.”

Hendrix, who served as sheriff from 1997 to 2000, has said he hired a political consultant to handle his campaign for a second term.

Although the fliers were harsh, Hendrix contended they were true.

Testimony presented during the trial revealed that the mug shots of Bennett and Reid were taken in 1995, when they were arrested for allegedly conducting work at a construction site without a permit.

The charges were eventually dropped.

Chofnas said he disagreed with the appeals court’s decision not to reinstate the jury’s verdict in Reid’s favor.

“They focused on one of the fliers that had a picture of Bennett. He was the only one shown on that cover sheet,” said Chofnas, adding that the flier asked if a sheriff’s candidate should accept support from a “convicted criminal.”

“The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that crossed the line and based on that they reinstated the verdict in favor of Bennett,” Chofnas said.
“But if they had correctly applied Georgia law they would’ve done the same thing for Reid’s verdict as well.”