Former Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino is suing two former campaign opponents over private Facebook messages made in 2013 and 2014 but made public last month.
In 2014, Valentino was a two-term incumbent facing challenges from both Republican Doug Underhill and Democrats Ray Guillory and Deb Moore. Guillory lost his primary battle, but Underhill defeated Valentino in the Republican primary and went on to trounce Moore in the general election.
Last month, Guillory published transcripts of private messages he and Underhill exchanged during the 2014 election campaign to the Escambia Citizens Watch Facebook group. With more than 4,400 members, the group is a popular forum for discussions about local politics and government.
In the messages, Underhill and Guillory briefly discuss a supposed extramarital affair Valentino was said to be having. Now that the conversation has been posted publicly, Valentino says those allegations have cast aspersions on his character and caused him ongoing damage. He’s asking a circuit court judge to award him at least $15,000.
“The statements made by the Defendants, Guillory and Underhill, and the implications contained therein, are false, malicious (in law and fact), and defamatory,” attorney Gregory D. Smith wrote in a court filing. “The statements published by the Defendants were done so in complete disregard of their obviously harmful effect on the Plaintiff’s reputation and good standing in the community.”
“As a result of the publication of the various statements noted herein, the words and the implications which they carry have caused, and will continue to cause, the Plaintiff to be regarded with scorn, contempt, ridicule, and disrespect by the Plaintiff’s contemporaries,” Smith added. “These effects will continue into the foreseeable future.”
Underhill says he hasn’t yet seen the lawsuit.
“I haven’t been served yet, so I really don’t know what’s in the lawsuit,” Underhill said Tuesday. “My focus will continue to remain on trying to fix stormwater management and infrastructure issues and balance the county budget.”
Guillory said he didn’t publish the conversation in order to spread the rumor about Valentino’s alleged affair.
“I printed the conversation to show that Doug Underhill was spreading the rumor as a political maneuver,” Guillory said. “My role in this was as a political blogger and reporter.”
Valentino was no stranger to controversy during his eight years in office, the subject of numerous public records and campaign finance complaints to the State Attorney. While he was cleared in most of the complaints, Valentino did plead no contest to a noncriminal violation of Florida’s public records law in 2009 and was fined $500.
Underhill has filed to run for a second term in 2018, but he’s facing a well-funded primary challenge from retired executive Alan McMillan. Supported by many of Valentino’s former campaign donors, McMillan has raised more than $50,000, while Underhill’s campaign reports show only a $1,000 loan from the Underhill to his campaign.
Read the court filing below: