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Defamation suit closer to trial

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A defamation lawsuit filed by a conservative Christian minister and former Navy chaplain against Michael “Mikey” Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation he founded got a step closer to trial following a hearing Wednesday in Albuquerque.

District Judge Denise Barela Shepherd dismissed one claim against Weinstein, malicious abuse of process, in the lawsuit filed by Gordon Klingenschmitt of Colorado.

But she denied Weinstein’s motion to dismiss the defamation claim.

Both sides counted it as a victory.

“Half their case was dismissed today,” said attorney David Roman of Albuquerque, who was one of three lawyers representing Weinstein and the foundation at the hearing. Weinstein, his wife and the foundation have filed a counterclaim against Klingenschmitt.

He said once discovery is completed, Weinstein could again seek a court ruling to end the litigation.

But Klingenschmitt’s lawyers said they believe the case will go to trial. Stephen Casey said after Shepherd’s ruling that the claims had been thoroughly investigated before the case was filed and he expects it to go to trial.

The New Mexico litigation is a spinoff from a Texas case.

Weinstein, an attorney, Air Force Academy graduate and former White House counsel who is Jewish, earned the enmity of the religious right, and galvanized it, with his crusade to end alleged undue influence by Christian fundamentalists in the military.

In 2009, Weinstein sued Klingenschmitt, who runs the Pray in Jesus Name Project, after he posted “curse prayers” that Weinstein alleged were actually coded messages to Klingenschmitt’s followers intended to incite violence against the Weinsteins.

A Dallas judge ultimately dismissed Weinstein’s lawsuit because he could not prove a causal connection between the former chaplain’s “imprecatory prayer” and a threatened or actual action.

Klingenschmitt subsequently filed the defamation action against Weinstein and the foundation in state district court in New Mexico because the Weinsteins live in Albuquerque and the foundation is organized under New Mexico law.

The lawsuit alleges Weinstein made statements on behalf of himself and the foundation in a 2009 radio interview and article in the Dallas Morning News that associated Klingenschmitt with acts of vandalism that occurred at Weinstein’s home – among them, windows shot out, beer bottles and feces thrown at it and slaughtered animals left at the front door.