NC candidate admits her attack ad was false. Here’s where defamation lawsuit stands

Robert Willett/

Opponents in the race for a state Senate seat have resolved a lawsuit that stemmed from a campaign ad against Sen. Michael Lee during the 2022 elections.

The television ad accused Lee, a Republican and lawyer from New Hanover County, of using his political position to serve his real estate clients by getting special use permits and rezoning for big developers against the advice of city planners. It also accused Lee of leaving his constituents with over-development, higher costs of living and increased traffic.

The accusations would have incriminated Lee in six different crimes, according to a lawsuit by Lee that called the ad defamatory.

Late Wednesday night, 10 months after the election ended with a narrow win by Lee, Democrat Marcia Morgan posted on Facebook that her ad was false and that she and Lee had resolved the lawsuit.

“Following the guidance of the NC Senate Democratic Caucus’s staff and consultants, my campaign ran an advertisement that accused Michael Lee of using his position as a NC Senator to obtain special favors for his real estate developer clients,” Morgan’s post states. “I regret that my accusations were not based on actual facts. I am grateful to put this matter behind me and move forward.”

The News & Observer could not immediately reach the caucus or Morgan for comment on Thursday.

Lee’s campaign manager, Chase Horton, told The N&O that additional details about the resolution weren’t immediately available.

After Lee filed his lawsuit against Morgan, she voluntarily removed the ads against Lee.

Lee squeaked out his reelection win against Morgan with 51% of the vote, allowing him to serve his fourth term in the state Senate.

Lee wasn’t the only North Carolina politician in recent years to challenge an opponent’s campaign ad.

During the 2020 race for attorney general, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill filed a complaint with the North Carolina Board of Elections against incumbent Attorney General Josh Stein, currently running for governor, after he ran an ad against O’Neill accusing him of letting rape kits sit untested on a shelf. O’Neill claimed defamation, stating that district attorneys had no responsibility for testing rape kits. District Attorney Lorrin Freeman opened a criminal investigation into whether Stein violated a 1930s campaign law, but a court decision blocked her from prosecuting him.

In 2022, an attack ad against U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley by the National Republican Senatorial Committee was also pulled from airwaves by local television stations that determined the commercial to be false.