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Michigan congressional candidates fight in court over military record

Military veterans who fought in Afghanistan and the Iraq war including, from left, Duane Waymon Williams, Tegan Griffith, Jeff Hensley, and David Curry meet with Michigan Rep. Kerry Bentivolio on Capitol Hill, March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/ABACA PRESS/TNS

By TODD SPANGLER | Detroit Free Press | Published: May 16, 2018

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — A former congressman who is running for a chance at getting his old job back is suing a rival for $10 million, claiming the other candidate has defamed him by suggesting his military record is fake.

Through his lawyer, former U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Milford, filed the civil suit in Oakland County Circuit Court this week, saying A. Rocky Raczkowski has for years “engaged in a malicious defamation campaign … telling multiple third parties that Bentivolio’s military record is fraudulent and fake.”

Both men are candidates for the Republican nomination in the 11th District in Oakland and western Wayne counties. U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, is stepping down from the seat after two terms.

Bentivolio's lawyer, commentator and author Debbie Schlussel, said she has statements from people documenting that Raczkowski, a former state representative and retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, has made false claims about Bentivolio’s record and several medals his military record shows he received. Bentivolio served in the Army and later in the National Guard.

Raczkowski denied the accusation. But he said he has publicly questioned what he said were comments Bentivolio made to him in 2012 that the former congressman had received a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts for his service. "Yeah, I questioned that," Raczkowski told the Free Press.

Schlussel said Bentivolio – who did receive a Vietnam Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars for his service in the Army in the 1970s – never made those claims.

“Rocky is a liar,” Schlussel said.

“I have brought it up lately because he demeaned my military service,” Raczkowski said of Bentivolio. He added that the lawsuit was served on him at a debate Monday night at the Emagine Novi theater by a retired military man in uniform. Military rules prohibit the wearing of uniforms to political events even by retired personnel.

The initial filing in Oakland County asked for $100 million but Schlussel said that was in error.

Even so, winning a defamation case for actions alleged amid a political campaign could be difficult. Generally speaking, claims made about politicians and candidates – especially by other candidates – are often considered protected political speech, though in the lawsuit, Bentivolio and Schlussel say statements made were “not privileged, not opinion, not truthful and wholly unjustified.”

Contact Todd Spangler at tspangler@freepress.com.

©2018 the Detroit Free Press
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Congressional candidate Rocky Raczkowski greets prospective voters in the parking lot at the Older Persons Commission on Tuesday Nov. 2, 2010, in Rochester, Michigan.
ERIC SEALS/DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS

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