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AL.com responds to lawsuit threats from Roy Moore's camp with blistering letter

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A "Women For Moore" rally was held Friday in support of Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore, in front of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. Kayla Moore told the crowd of supporters that her husband will not bow out of the Senate race. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Last week, Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore threatened to sue AL.com and its publishers for allegedly false and defamatory statements made about Moore.

The letter was sent on behalf of Moore, his wife Kayla, and the Foundation for Moral Law — a charity that has been the subject of public scrutiny regarding payments made to Moore for speaking fees. Counsel for AL.com fired back late last week, defending their reporting and threatening Moore's attorneys with legal sanctions if they decided to proceed with the lawsuit.

What's the source of the controversy?

Along with numerous other media outlets, AL.com has covered the controversy surrounding Moore's interactions with teenage girls in the late 1970s — at a time when Moore himself was in his early 30s.

However, the reason for this specific lawsuit threat seems to center on AL.com's reporting on the Foundation for Moral Law, a Roy Moore-founded charity that has been accused of secretly funneling improper payments to Moore for speaking fees.

AL.com was one of the first media outlets to report on alleged discrepancies between the amount of compensation paid to Moore reported to the IRS and the amount of compensation actually paid. They also reported that the foundation took out a second mortgage to ensure that Moore received "back pay," even as the foundation was unable to pay its creditors in a timely fashion.

During the midst of this scrutiny, the foundation revealed that it had given Moore a promissory note for over $500,000 for speaking fees collected by Moore. This promissory note was secured by a mortgage on the foundation's most valuable asset, a historic building in Montgomery.

Moore has consistently stated throughout the years that he does not receive a "regular salary" from the charity, but AL.com, the Washington Post and others have alleged, based on their review of "internal charity documents," the existence of a secret agreement to pay Moore an annual $180,000 salary for "part time work" that consists mostly of periodic public speeches.

Moore and the foundation have denied all allegations of impropriety. Their attorneys sent AL.com a "cease and desist" letter, demanding that AL.com cease all reporting on these subjects, and also recant its prior stories on the subject.

How did AL.com respond to Moore's threats?

Attorneys for the Alabama Media Group, which publishes AL.com, responded to the lawsuit threat by defending their reporting and threatening Moore's attorneys with sanctions if they filed the lawsuit.

AL.com stated flatly that they would not abide by Moore's demand, stating, "AL.com hereby rejects your demand. AL.com stands by its reporting regarding all of the matters addressed in your letter."

AL.com's response also said that, "Should your clients nevertheless decide to pursue this matter further, AL.com will vigorously defend itself, and will employ all available remedies, including a Rule 11 motion if warranted."

Rule 11 is a rule of both federal and state rules of civil procedure that subjects lawyers to potential financial sanctions for filing frivolous lawsuits.

AL.com's response also demanded that the Moores preserve all records retain and preserve all records relating to the subject matter of the stories, which is a precursor for litigation.

What does it all mean?

Moore's threats against AL.com are likely empty, as Moore's attorneys must surely know. As a public figure who is running for office, it is almost impossible to successfully sue a media organization for libel.

In order to succeed, Moore would have to prove "actual malice" on the part of AL.com, which basically requires proof that AL.com published the story with absolutely no concern for whether it was true or false.

Given the amount of documentary evidence uncovered by AL.com, it seems extremely unlikely that Moore would succeed in court, even if their characterizations of the payment arrangements are unfair, as Moore claims.

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