A Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy has filed suit against three people, including a self-styled political activist, he contends defamed him in an online community forum.
In the complaint, filed last week in Forsyth County Superior Court, Jonathan Smithgall cites Lisa Shelton of Sharpsburg and local residents Kim Pruitt and David Milum for what is described as libel, slander, false light, civil conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Smithgall has asked the court for various damages, attorneys’ fees and an injunction or temporary restraining order to stop the defendants from distributing further statements, written or oral, against him.
According to the complaint, Shelton and Smithgall were in a romantic relationship from January to April 2008 that ended because of Shelton’s “dishonesty and erratic behavior over the course of the relationship.”
It goes on to say that about the time of their breakup, Shelton told Smithgall she was pregnant with his child, though neither the pregnancy nor paternity have been confirmed.
Smithgall’s attorney, Jeffrey Melcher, said it's not even clear the child exists.
“We asked for [proof],” he said. “That’s one of the reasons he proceeded.”
Melcher said his client thought a long time about the suit before going ahead with it.
“It’s one of those suits where this was done, in a lot of ways, because of the trouble it’s caused the client,” he said. “It wasn’t done out of anger or anything like that as much as it was done because he just finally had his fill of it.”
The complaint asserts that Shelton, going by the username “CCSO,” posted a message on the forum March 3 saying that Smithgall was “the alleged biological father” of a female child and that the mother was seeking child support.
The message also said Smithgall is a deputy for the sheriff’s office.
Pruitt is the wife of Scott Pruitt, a former sheriff’s deputy recently convicted on federal child pornography charges. She replied to the post a day later, saying that Smithgall was indeed the child’s biological father.
Pruitt has also filed requests with the sheriff’s office for Smithgall’s employment and computer records.
The complaint lists Milum as the Web master of the site. Milum, who has posted a copy of the suit online, said Smithgall’s case is “without merit."
“Mr. Smithgall has no case,” he said. “Several attorneys have looked at it and actually laughed out loud.”
Milum said he, Pruitt and Shelton have retained legal counsel, though he declined to name the attorney.
He said the suit has not deterred him from posting messages on his Web site.
“The only thing it does is make me think I want to double my efforts,” Milum said. “That’s what we’re considering is doubling our efforts
He also said he and the other defendants plan to file their own lawsuit.
“It’ll be federal and we are under the impression that this was instigated by Sheriff Ted Paxton,” Milum said. “He convinced Mr. Smithgall to do this since we’ve been so hard against the sheriff.”
Paxton said he is not involved in the case.
"I have absolutely nothing to do with any litigation by deputy Smithgall," Paxton said. "Any litigation that deputy Smithgall is undertaking is being done by him and his attorney ... Mr. Milum is once again chasing windmills."
According to the complaint and the forum, Milum posted a message March 23 titled “FCSO Officer Jonathan Smithgall Allegedly Denies Paternity,” which refers to the deputy’s relationship with Shelton and the child.
The complaint states that Milum “had no substantive evidence to prove the allegations he posted about (Smithgall) on the message board.”
Another message posted by CCSO in April listed “weaknesses” about Smithgall and included derogatory sexual remarks about him.
According to the complaint, Milum responded to the message and further damaged Smithgall's character.
Shelton apparently complained to Smithgall’s supervisors that the deputy was stalking her and her children and said she was afraid for their safety.
Her accusations prompted an Internal Affairs investigation that, according to the complaint, determined her claims were unfounded.
According to documents filed with the lawsuit, Shelton wrote to Melcher three times in August about the alleged pregnancy.
Shelton first wrote that she was giving the child up for adoption. Her next letter states that she was getting married and her future husband would adopt the child.
The last letter that month from Shelton asks that Smithgall surrender his rights to the unborn child.
She continued to write to Melcher about issues surrounding the child. In December, Melcher responded by informing her that he and Smithgall had not been able to confirm that Smithgall was the father.
Milum is accustomed to legal battles involving the Web site.
A 2006 Forsyth County Superior Court ruling ordered Milum to pay $50,000 to local attorney Rafe Banks III.
A jury found Milum had libeled Banks on his Web site in 2004 by accusing the lawyer of delivering bribes for drug dealers to judges.
According to the Media Law Center, Milum was the first blogger in the country to lose a libel suit, a case that received national attention.
In October 2007, a Superior Court jury ruled against Milum for malice and ordered him to pay former Forsyth County employee Joseph Gooden $100,000 in damages and $50,000 for attorney's fees.
The lawsuit was filed against Milum in 2005 for alleging on a Web site that Gooden accepted bribes and extorted money from county vendors.