James Faller II, of Columbia County, has filed a complaint in Gwinnett County Superior Court that alleges radio talk show host Austin Rhodes repeatedly libeled and defamed him on air and on Rhodes’ social media pages.
The suit, filed on Dec. 17, also names Beasley Broadcasting, the parent company of local broadcast station WGAC (AM580 and 95.1FM), which airs Rhodes’ show.
Specifically, the suit alleges that Rhodes “made false, malicious and defamatory statements against Faller expressed in print, phone calls, online electronic form and broadcast.”
The complaint accuses Rhodes of calling Faller a “weirdo,” an “idiot,” a “fraud” and a “felon.”
Further, the complaint alleges Rhodes made phone calls to prominent politicians and elected leaders warning them about associating with Faller and posing for pictures with him at public events.Filed-Complaint
Faller is known to frequent Republican Party events in Columbia County.
Faller admitted in a phone interview that he is a convicted felon and spent more than two years in federal prison. However, Faller insists he was a whistleblower and the convictions of money laundering and IRS related charges stemmed from a government conspiracy against him.
Faller said throughout a decade long battle, the government arranged the killing of two of his children and the rape of a third. He said his convictions are currently under appeal and that other indictments against him have been dropped.
According to Faller, if the appeals fail, he expects to be pardoned.
Faller produced a 10-minute recorded conversation between himself and Rhodes where the radio talk show host told him, “You need to put about 10 years of constructive, error-free life between you and your jail time. You need to keep your nose out of politics.”
According to Faller’s complaint, Rhodes’ admonishment and refusal to allow Faller to be a guest on his afternoon radio program violated Faller’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
According to the law, libel occurs when someone knowingly publishes a false statement that harms the reputation or otherwise damages an identifiable individual. Falsely accusing a private citizen of being a convicted felon without taking time to verify the accusation would likely meet the criteria of libel. The standards are different for public figures or public officials.
In terms of any First Amendment violation, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 1974 case, Miami Herald v. Tornillo, that individuals do not have a right of access to media.
Rhodes maintains that he did not know of nor ever met Faller before he was tipped off that Faller was attempting to become involved in political campaigns without disclosing his criminal past.
According to Rhodes, he was alarmed that Faller was sidling up to politicians and posing in photos with them while they knew nothing of Faller’s felony record. Rhodes admits he made multiple phone calls warning people to be wary of Faller.
“You can’t slander someone with the truth, and that is all I did. I told the truth,” Rhodes said.
This is not the first time Rhodes has been involved in a libel related controversy. Businessman and politician Joe Mullins sued Rhodes for libel in 2018 and later claimed an “agreement” was reached but divulged few details claiming he signed a confidentiality agreement.
“We shut him down. He is not allowed to talk about me anymore,” Mullins said.
However, Rhodes said his company has never settled any agreement with Mullins and that the lawsuit was withdrawn before it came to trial.
“I have never been told by my boss not to talk about him [Mullins] on the air, and I know for a fact that our company has never settled a lawsuit or paid out any money for something I said on the air,” Rhodes said.Mulllins-Complaint
In 2006, Rhodes joined the then-sheriff of Richmond County, Ronald Strength, in suing Bryan Doyle, a radio personality based in Aiken for comments and accusations he made on-air under the name of “Ryan B.”
The court ruled in favor of Rhodes and Strength and awarded them millions of dollars in damages.
Rhodes said he was pleased with the outcome of the case, but neither he nor the former sheriff have ever received a dime of the judgement.
“I’m a multimillionaire on paper,” Rhodes said.
Scott Hudson is the Senior Reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org