The attorney for Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell says a civil lawsuit filed against O’Donnell and two other elected officials is frivolous and won’t be successful in court.
Mark Schoenhofer contends in a court filing that Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple filed the lawsuit with the main objective of impacting the results of the Sedgwick County Commission 2nd District election.
O’Donnell, a Republican, is seeking a second term representing the 2nd District. His opponent is Democrat Sarah Lopez.
Schoenhofer says he instructed O’Donnell not to talk with the media until after the lawsuit is resolved. An eight-page court filing in the case provides answers to allegations against O’Donnell, who is seeking a jury trial.
Earlier this month, Whipple amended a defamation lawsuit filed last year to list O’Donnell, Wichita City Council member James Clendenin and Kansas House Representative Michael Capps as defendants. The lawsuit stems from a video advertisement that aired during Whipple’s mayoral campaign last year.
The video contained false information about Whipple, and Schoenhofer says that did not harm Whipple’s reputation because Whipple won the election. As a result, the attorney says Whipple cannot establish a valid claim for defamation.
Schoenhofer says O’Donnell denies all allegations that he had a role in producing the video, including an accusation that O’Donnell wrote the script. Further, O’Donnell denies there was a conspiracy, and denies that he hatched a plan to blame others for the video.
In a July interview with KMUW, O’Donnell said his only involvement during that time was helping some outside groups fundraise to support incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell’s reelection campaign.
"In no way did I have a hand in producing any videos or appreciate or support any false attacks because I’ve been subjected to false attacks, a litany of them, and it’s not fun," O'Donnell said. "And that’s just some of the sacrifice we make with being in politics."
Schoenhofer maintains that Matthew Colborn wrote the script and produced the video without O’Donnell’s knowledge beforehand of its contents.
A secretly recorded conversation reportedly between Colborn and the three politicians was released last week. The audio recording suggests the men plotted to blame Sedgwick County Republican Party Chairman Dalton Glasscock for the video.
Schoenhofer’s court filing says O’Donnell admits he met with Clendenin and Capps, but denies that the purpose was to shift blame for the ad. Instead, he said the meeting was to prepare Capps for an upcoming interview on a local radio station.
Since the audio recording was released, the Sedgwick County Republican Party, four county commissioners, Republican Congressman Ron Estes and others have called for O’Donnell, Clendenin and Capps to resign.
Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner says the commission is consulting with the county’s legal department for options.
The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office began an investigation Monday into the audio recording, with the help of Wichita Police and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.
Clendendin issued the following statement:
(1) I am proud of the many years of honorable service I've been fortunate to provide for the residents of Wichita and particularly District 3.
(2) I should not have attended the meeting that has become widely discussed and frequently misunderstood.
(3)When publicly questioned about Dalton Glasscock’s potential involvement, I did not lie and instead stated I had no knowledge if he did.
(4) I never, at any level, had any involvement in the scripting, directing, editing or distribution of the television ad in question. Nor did I even know of its existence until after it was produced.
(5) I look forward to honorably completing my term in office as the City Councilmember representing District 3.
Capps has not responded to requests for comment.