Shirley Sherrod, who was fired from her USDA job last year after Andrew Breitbart posted online an edited video of her, has filed a lawsuit for libel and slander against Breitbart in D.C. Superior Court. The suit was filed on Friday, and Breitbart was served with it this weekend, while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, according to The New York Times.
Sherrod was the Georgia Director of Rural Development for the
USDA until July, when Breitbart posted the edited video, in which she was shown telling the Coffee County, GA NAACP about a time she didn’t help a farmer as much as she could have because he was white. The video made national news, and Sherrod was forced to resign shortly after its release. But when the NAACP released the full version of the video — in which it was clear Sherrod was speaking about overcoming her own racial prejudices — the story turned. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered Sherrod public apologies, and she was offered a new job at the USDA — which she turned down.
A press release on Breitbart’s website Big Government responds to the suit against Breitbart and Breitbart.tv head Larry O’Connor, but does not refer to Sherrod by name, and does not mention the edited video. Instead, the release titled “Andrew Breitbart on Pigford Lawsuit: ‘Bring It On,'” focuses on the Pigford settlement, which paid black farmers who said they had been discriminated against by the USDA. Breitbart’s statement alludes to Sherrod as “a central figure in the Pigford ‘back-door’ reparations case.”
“I find it extremely telling that this lawsuit was brought almost seven months after the alleged incidents that caused a national media frenzy occurred,” Breitbart said in the statement. “It is no coincidence that this lawsuit was filed one day after I held a press conference revealing audio proof of orchestrated and systemic Pigford fraud. I can promise you this: neither I, nor my journalistic websites, will or can be silenced by the institutional Left, which is obviously funding this lawsuit. I welcome the judicial discovery process, including finding out which groups are doing so.”
The statement also says that Breitbart “categorically rejects the transparent effort to chill his constitutionally protected free speech and, to reiterate, looks forward to exercising his full and broad discovery rights.”
Sherrod and her husband, a civil rights activist, received a multi-million-dollar settlement as part of the first Pigford settlement, resulting from discrimination the couple faced while running a collective farm in Georgia.
But when TPM reported last year that the release of the Sherrod video coincided with a Senate vote on Pigford II, Breitbart wrote us an email denying the connection.
“No. Seriously. On everything I hold dear,” Breitbart wrote. Shortly before the video was released, the NAACP had passed a resolution condemning racist elements of the Tea Party movement, and Breitbart claimed the group was the video’s real target.
“This was never about Sherrod. It was CLEARLY telegraphed at NAACP — on Thursday when I, gulp, told Ben Jealous to ‘go to hell’ for spending week attacking racism with Tea Party. That the media and White House have turned this into me versus Sherrod is silly. My consistent angle is defending Tea Party from this predictable line of attack,” Breitbart told TPM at the time.
Sherrod has hired a big-time lawyer to represent her: Thomas D. Yannucci. A partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Yannucci’s bio boasts that he has been selected as “one of America’s Leading Lawyers for Business in Litigation/General Commercial and in Media & Entertainment by Chambers USA every year since 2003.” He also had a lead role in Chiquita Brands’ claims against the Gannett Company Inc. and The Cincinnati Enquirer in the 1990s.
Back in July, Sherrod told CNN she would like to “get back at” Breitbart, and said she was considering suing.
TPM’s attempts to contact Breitbart on Monday were not immediately successful.
Late Update: Read the whole complaint here.