House advances defamation bill as gun shop owner argues it will ease politically motivated lawsuits

A Milton businessman being sued by Alex Andrade's firm sees questionable motivation in the law.

A third and final House committee has advanced a contentious defamation bill. But one critic testified the legislation will help its sponsor bring forward lawsuits against anyone criticizing his political allies.

At a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Milton gun shop owner Chris Smith discussed a lawsuit filed against his business. Santa Rosa County Commissioner Sam Parker filed suit against Smith’s business in September over use of his likeness in a “taxation is theft” promotion, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The lawsuit was filed by attorneys at the same law firm where Rep. Alex Andrade, the bill’s sponsor, works.

“The fact that I’m getting sued right now and this makes it a little easier for his law firm to sue me and win also kind of hits home that he’s filing the bill,” Smith said.

Smith classified his store’s promotion as “parody videos” that called out a local politician’s alleged corruption. The store covered a local sales tax for customers.

The lawsuit claims the use of the County Commissioner’s images were “uniformly derogatory,” as reported by the News Journal.

Andrade, for his part, noted he isn’t personally suing Smith.

“My firm is a law firm. There’s a lawsuit being filed by another attorney at my firm that I have nothing to do with,” the Pensacola Republican said. “It’s not at all related to defamation. This bill would have no effect on that lawsuit.”

Andrade said the lawsuit in question chiefly surrounds different state law about the improper use of someone’s likeness in commercial advertising.

He also has repeatedly insisted his bill won’t outlaw name-calling, or even accusing politicians of being corrupt, as those are matters of opinion and not fact.

The House committee advanced the bill (HB 757) on a 14-7 vote Wednesday. Most votes against the bill came from Democrats, but Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Deltona Republican, also voted “no.”

The legislation is next heading to the House floor.

Lawmakers moved the measure forward after supporting an amendment intended to limit venue shopping. Even with the change, many media outlets voiced concern that the legislation seeks to erase decades of precedent on what constitutes defamation.

Carol LoCicero, a libel defense lawyer for outlets including Newsmax and The Villages Daily Sun, said the legislation will lead to more lawsuits against conservative media.

“Florida already has greater than its fair share of libel cases,” she said.

“The risk may be greatest for conservative voices. We’ve seen a wave of high-profile lawsuits and settlements. The Dominion voting case that Fox settled for $787 million. The verdict against Rudy Giuliani for $148 million, former President (Donald) Trump for $83 million. And just this month a jury awarded $1 million to climate professor Michael Mann in a case involving the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The dangers are real.”

Andrade brushed off the criticisms.

“Shocking. Media outlets and their attorneys are afraid that a bill that protects your reputation and recognizes that your reputation has value, (they) don’t want it to pass,” Andrade said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Tom Palmer

    February 21, 2024 at 11:28 am

    Yeah, but all of the verdicts cited involved people spreading false information, which has always been grounds for a defamation suit. If conservative outlets feel threatened, it might help if they stop spreading lies.

    • Tony the Greek

      February 21, 2024 at 11:55 am

      Kinda hard to accomplish because their core audiences love being lied to.

  • FloridaPatriot

    February 22, 2024 at 8:09 am

    I can’t help but notice how many Conservative voices are hard core against a bill regulating their defamation stations. They KNOW they do nothing but spread lies and defame on a daily basis and are scared to death that they will finally be shut down.

Comments are closed.


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