Ruthann Aron's candidacy for the U.S. Senate was torpedoed by an opponent who knew she was not a criminal but repeatedly called her one, her lawyers told an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury yesterday.
Ms. Aron is asking jurors to find that William E. Brock, a former U.S. senator and secretary of labor, defamed her at a news conference and in advertisements broadcast in the closing days of their 1994 race for the Republican nomination for Senate.
Ms. Aron, a Potomac lawyer and real estate developer, alleges that by distorting the facts about two civil suits filed against her, Mr. Brock went beyond the acceptable rules for campaign rhetoric, ruining her reputation and costing her the election.
The suit is being closely watched because its outcome could determine how far candidates may go in their political advertising during a campaign, legal experts say.
We believe this case will set a reference point for future election campaigns," Geoffery P. Gitner, Ms. Aron's lead lawyer, told jurors yesterday.
Ms. Aron must prove that Mr. Brock acted with "actual malice," which means that he either knew his allegations were false or showed reckless disregard for whether they were true or false.
In opening statements yesterday, Mr. Brock's lawyer, Ben Cotten, said there is no evidence his client acted with malice when he blurted out to reporters that Ms. Aron had been "convicted" of fraud at a Rockville news conference Sept. 7, 1994.
Mr. Brock made the comments as he was responding to false accusations from Ms. Aron that he had been involved in improprieties regarding a Pennsylvania investment deal, Mr. Cotten said.
"This wasn't a smooth, polished, planned attack," he said.