Tom Lauder (left) and Rupert Tarsey
Tom Lauder (left) and Rupert Tarsey
TrueBroward TV

Despite Claw Hammer Attack on a Girl, Republican Party Secretary Sues Blogger for Libel

Rupert Tarsey was poised to make a fresh start in South Florida when his past caught up with him. Now he's lashing back at a blogger who helped derail his attempt at a phoenix-like rise.

You might remember the story. After he took a position on the Broward Republican executive committee last year, reporters across the nation caught wind that Tarsey at age 17 had used a hammer to strike a female classmate while attending the prestigious private high school Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles. He secured a plea deal on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon in 2010 and had his sentence suspended in the California court.

The Daily Mail, Sunshine State News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Sun Sentinelall chronicled how he had avoided jail time and resettled in South Florida. Reporters noted that Tarsey’s past had not been fully disclosed when he was voted into the Republican committee ranks in 2017.

One local blogger, Tom Lauder, incensed Tarsey to no end. Lauder is a Broward politics buff whose relationships with Republican leadership has ranged from friendly to vehemently contentious. His blog RedBroward, which over the years has been cited in multiple South Florida media outlets and a Politico brief, discusses the Tarsey issue in detail.

Tarsey’s recently filed lawsuit alleges Lauder crossed a line by sending an email calling him a “piece of shit murderer” and telling him he was “going to hell.” Lauder also allegedly bombarded Tarsey with unwelcome text messages that caused him to suffer severe "emotional distress."

The authenticity of that inflammatory email is a matter of debate. Lauder declined to comment on the specifics of the case and told New Times he is still formulating a legal strategy with his attorney.

Tarsey, for his part, is claiming Lauder is not a real reporter and received his "media credentials from Candyland." He claims Lauder published at least six articles on RedBroward "that contain multiple instances of false and defamatory statements.”

Among other grievances, Tarsey says that descriptions of the hammer attack on RedBroward are inaccurate and that he is repeatedly misquoted on the blog. He also takes issue with Lauder's posting a letter sent by a former Broward Republican chair to local party members, in which Tarsey is said to have intimidated and threatened his critics.

The success of the defamation claims could hinge on whether the court deems Tarsey to be a public figure. If he is placed in that category, his burden of proving defamation is higher. He would likely have to show actual malice, meaning the writer intentionally disregarded the truth or had reckless indifference toward it. That standard was established in the landmark case New York Times v. Sullivan.

The lawsuit against Lauder also faces legal hurdles in overcoming website immunity under the Communications Decency Act, which can shield site operators from liability for statements made by third parties in a site’s comment section. Several of the allegedly defamatory statements cited in the suit appear to have been pulled from RedBroward’s user comments. One such statement refers to Tarsey as a "thug."

Tarsey, whose family owns a multimillion-dollar real-estate empire, has pointed out that although he is working in politics, he does not hold public office. His professional profile describes him as a property investor, stock trader, and grassroots Republican campaigner.

“I personally knocked on at least 10,000 doors, and made thousands of phone calls, speaking with people and registering numerous voters,” Tarsey says in the profile, touting his efforts during Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

The profile shows him ziplining and spending time with family at the park. He's depicted as a philanthropist: “Giving back to my community makes me feel like I serve my purpose and set a good example for my children. But more importantly, it is simply a Christian thing to do."

As for the old criminal charges, Tarsey claims his past was dug up by political opponents in 2017 in retaliation for supporting the ouster of then-Republican executive committee chairman Bob Sutton. Tarsey and his lawyers for years have tried to downplay the assault victim’s injuries.

During the plea hearing in 2010, the victim’s father, Dr. David Barcay, shut down the defense attorneys’ assertion that his daughter had swiftly recovered from the assault. He said his daughter was “in constant pain every day... Her shattered leg has a rod in it from her knee to her ankle... She walks with a limp."

Dr. Barcay said that after a trip to a local Jamba Juice, Tarsey drove his daughter to a cul-de-sac near their high school, trapped her in a car, and then beat her relentlessly with a hammer in an unprovoked assault. He said his daughter “will never be able to get away from the horrors of those moments.” The account stands in contrast to Tarsey’s claims that he administered the hammer blows in self-defense after a verbal altercation between the two teenagers escalated into violence.

Court records show the family ultimately accepted restitution and consented to the plea deal, which entailed no jail time for Tarsey. The felony charge to which Tarsey pleaded no contest was later reduced to a misdemeanor.

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