More names expected in Cameron County libel lawsuit

More names could be added to a multi-million dollar libel lawsuit filed against a former Cameron County district attorney candidate, a former district attorney and two newspapers.

The lawsuit alleges former candidate Peter Zavaletta smeared the reputation of unsuspecting people in a political campaign ad that has backfired.

The ad ran during the Democrat primaries and incorrectly and falsely named several area residents as child molestors and sex offenders.

Both sides of this civil lawsuit argued before Judge Abel Limas on Friday.

Zavaletta's attorney Ed Stapleton said the ad is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

"The issue is whether or not free speech issues would remove the case before we continue with discovery," Stapleton said.

Stapleton and lawyers for the other defendants filed a motion for a summary judgment.

But attorneys for the plaintiff attorney insist on taking the case to trial.

Attorney Marc Rosenthal represents two men whose names were listed in Zavaletta's political newspaper ad as alleged child sex offenders.

Rosenthal told Action 4 News that he wants discovery time to dig up all the facts on the defendants before going to trial.

Stapleton argued that it is not necessary.

"Because he was engaged in political free speech there should be no further conduct of the case until that's decided," Stapleton said.

But Rosenthal said the ad has caused damage to his client.

"It's affected their reputations," Rosenthal said of his clients. "It's devastated their families emotionally caused them to be brought under the light of suspicion."

Rosenthal said his clients were never convicted, charged or even arrested.

They blame Zavaletta, former Cameron County District Attorney Yolanda De Leon, The Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star for the damage.

"With respect to the claims by the defendants in this case and that they shouldn't be inovled in the middle of this suit..that's just poppycock," Rosenthal said.

Action 4 News has learned taht Judge Limes granted the plaintiff's motion for continuance but denied the motion for sanction.

This means the court hearing originally set for May 15 will be postponed until discovery is finished.

The move could allow more alleged victims to add their names to the lawsuit and possibly more people to be named as defendants.