Sumter County commissioners Tuesday agreed to proceed with a defamation lawsuit against an animal activist who posted a Facebook video last month attacking them.
The potential lawsuit became the latest salvo in an ongoing nine-month battle with the activists, who started coming to board meetings last summer.
County attorney Jennifer Rey said the video, posted by Karen Pauly-Gugliuzza of Leesburg, refers to commissioners as monsters, cold-hearted snakes and “dirty, rotten scoundrels.” According to her profile, Pauly-Gugliuzza is a volunteer dog walker with the Lake County animal shelter.
Rey asked commissioners to give her direction on whether to file a lawsuit.
“While we respect the public’s right to free speech, we believe there are limits,” she said. “There have to be limits of what is acceptable public speech.”
Defamation lawsuits are more difficult to win for public figures like the commissioners and they must prove actual malice.
Rey said the video has received 6,308 views and 194 shares. She said one person commented about killing commissioners.
The video was posted on the Shelter Reform for Sumter County Facebook page, but Angie Fox, one of the page’s administrators, warned commissioners not to blame it on her.
“If you go after me for something I didn’t do, you will be paying my attorney’s fees,” she said during the public forum part of the meeting.
Activists, including Fox, have continued to criticize the county even after improvements were made to the animal shelter.
The county improved its live release percentage of animals received to about 90 percent for six months, which is the level of a no-kill shelter. But commissioners refused to designate the shelter as no-kill, to the chagrin of the activists.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners said the video went beyond the limits of free speech.
“There are limits,” said Commissioner Doug Gilpin. “It’s a stain on the citizens of Sumter County.”
Commissioner Steve Printz said he also favored proceeding with the lawsuit.
“We’ve been faced with nine months of half-truths, no truths, falsehoods and innuendos,” he said. “I don’t mind debate and I don’t mind people who have a different view of the world.”
County officials took a tougher stance toward the activists earlier this year, challenging their assertions during the public forum and cutting them off.