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Assemblywoman Diane Harkey sues state Sen. Mark Wyland for defamation

September 16, 2013|By Melanie Mason
  • Diane Harkey and Mark Wyland in file photos.
Diane Harkey and Mark Wyland in file photos.

SACRAMENTO -- Two GOP lawmakers who will compete next year for a seat on the state Board of Equalization are now duking it out in court.

Assemblywoman Diane L. Harkey (R-Dana Point) recently sued state Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) for defamation and emotional distress after he made comments about legal troubles facing Harkey and her husband during a July speech to a Tea Party group.

Harkey's husband, Dan, has been embroiled in a lawsuit by more than 40 plaintiffs alleging fraud by his company Point Center Financial. A jury found him liable for "breaching his fiduciary duty" and for elder abuse in July, but the case is still pending final judgment. 

The assemblywoman was initially named as a defendant in the case, but she was eventually dropped from the suit.

According to Diane Harkey's complaint, filed Aug. 26 in Orange County Superior Court, Wyland incorrectly portrayed the circumstances of the case by telling members of the Tri-City Tea Party, "Unfortunately there has been a lawsuit brought by a lot of investors of modest means against her and her husband for defrauding them.... There was a decision that those investors were defrauded and there is a judgment."

Harkey, whose lawsuit was first reported by the political website San Diego Rostra, says Wyland's statement was incorrect on several fronts. She was, at the time Wyland spoke, no longer a defendant in most of the claims against her husband. She also contested Wyland's description of the investors as having "modest means"; she stated in her complaint that many of the investors have a net worth greater than $1 million.

Harkey is seeking $5 million in damages. Her campaign, in a statement, said Wyland "has breached a rarely crossed line of propriety by attacking Diane Harkey for her husband’s business successes and challenges. In the process, the Wyland campaign has misrepresented the actual facts – wrongly claiming that the judge found investors had been defrauded."

"These attacks are more than typical political mudslinging. Rather, they present false information with the potential of damaging Dan and Diane Harkey’s long-standing reputation," the statement said.

Wyland, in an interview, said he was "incredulous" about the suit, which he said is "an attempt to bully me into not telling the truth about what happened to these victims. And I’m just not going to be bullied by this."

He said he plans to file a motion in the coming weeks under California's anti-SLAPP law, which blocks lawsuits meant to inhibit free speech.

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melanie.mason@latimes.com

@melmason

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