Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) speaks to reporters after a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill University March 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Issa ordered to pay former rival after dubious campaign lawsuit

The closest congressional race of 2016 was held in southern California, where Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was so worried about a challenge from Doug Applegate (D), a retired Marine colonel, that the Republican congressman produced direct-mail ads suggesting he'd worked cooperatively with Barack Obama -- whose presidency he fruitlessly tried to tear down.

In fact, Issa, who very narrowly eked out a victory, was also scared enough during the campaign to threaten Applegate with a defamation lawsuit based on criticisms the Democrat raised during their heated race.

Sure, once in a great while, candidates will make this threat, but nearly everyone has the good sense not to actually file such a case. Issa, however, the day after Election Day, actually went through with it, suing his defeated Democratic rival for defamation. How'd that turn out? The San Diego Union Tribune reported last week on the result of this misguided litigation.

A judge has ordered Rep. Darrell Issa to pay his opponent from last year's election more than $45,000 in legal expenses fees incurred during a defamation lawsuit.

In November, Issa, a Vista Republican, sued Democrat Doug Applegate over attack commercials the congressman said hurt his reputation. In March, a judge said that Issa didn't prove his case, but also sided with Applegate who argued that he was exercising his free speech rights with the television commercials, and that Issa's lawsuit was an attempt to silence criticism.

Now the judge has ordered Issa to reimburse Applegate, his campaign, and campaign manager Robert Dempsey. According to the June decision, Issa must pay $42,500 in attorney fees and another $2,842 in legal costs the defendants incurred while protecting themselves against Issa' lawsuit.

What makes this story amusing are the parallel failures in judgment. First, Issa pointed to several specific Applegate ads as defamatory, which fell flat. The court found that the commercials were, at a minimum, defensible.

Second, there's a state law in California against lawsuits that are intended to discourage the exercise of free speech. The judge in this case ruled against Issa on this, too.

The congressman really shouldn't have pursued this case in the first place, and yet, his attorney told the local newspaper Issa is appealing last week's ruling.

The longtime GOP lawmaker is considered a top Democratic target in 2018.