Gov. Eric Holcomb sent cease and desist letters to Reveal and the Indianapolis Star last week over reports he pressured a state safety inspector into reducing penalties against Amazon.
And a legal expert says those letters could signal an impending lawsuit.
Holcomb’s letters tell the media outlets to retract and correct stories alleging he pressured a safety inspector to clear Amazon of involvement in a worker death.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law’s Joseph Tomain says those letters could be the first step toward a defamation suit.
“Before somebody files a lawsuit for defamation, they have an obligation to request a retraction,” Tomain says.
Holcomb would face an uphill battle in such a suit. Tomain says defamation against a public figure requires what’s called “actual malice” – meaning they have to prove the publisher either knew the information was wrong or recklessly disregarded whether it was true or false.
“That’s a very high burden,” Tomain says. “It’s a constitutional burden.”
Holcomb denies any involvement in the Amazon investigation.