A judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Minneapolis police Lt. John Delmonico against former Mayor Betsy Hodges over text messages she sent to former police Chief Janeé Harteau in April.
Hodges blocked Harteau's decision to appoint Delmonico, a former police union leader, as inspector of the Fourth Precinct, and the dispute between the chief and mayor over the appointment was carried out mostly by text message.
Hennepin District Judge Jacqueline Regis wrote in a decision filed Tuesday that Hodges had good reason to discuss the appointment candidly with Harteau, the messages were "integral to the performance of her job," and therefore her text messages are immune from defamation claims.
"Hodges' ability to speak and deliberate freely in her decision-making process serves a substantial public interest," Regis wrote. "For these reasons, this court concludes that absolute immunity protects Hodges' text statements to Harteau from plaintiff's defamation claims."
Kyle Hart, an attorney for Delmonico disagrees, though he said in an e-mail they had not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling. "In my opinion, the decision is clearly wrong. It extends absolute privilege beyond anything ever recognized before in Minnesota.
"According to this decision, the Mayor was entitled to defame Delmonico in bad faith and out of spite without any accountability. That is extreme and a radical extension of the doctrine of absolute privilege in Minnesota."
In the messages, Hodges said "we know we can't trust" Delmonico and that he had done "racist stuff" over the years.
"This will be very bad for … community trust-building. And I don't know that I will be able to defend it," Hodges wrote.
Delmonico, who was the night supervisor in the Fourth Precinct, filed the lawsuit in October against Hodges and the city of Minneapolis, alleging defamation of character and arguing Hodges' text messages that day damaged his reputation.
Delmonico said the statements were retaliatory, given that he and Hodges had tussled in the past, especially over "Pointergate," a police union-driven controversy over a photo of Hodges posing with a black man. Delmonico told a TV news reporter that Hodges was flashing a gang sign. Hodges said she was merely pointing.
Running for re-election in November, Hodges came in third in the race. Mayor Jacob Frey took office in January.