HARRISBURG — State Sen. Daylin Leach on Monday sued a woman who has accused him of luring her into performing oral sex when she was a teenager and he was an attorney representing her mother in a criminal case nearly 30 years ago.
Leach, a Democrat from Montgomery County, contends that Cara Taylor, along with two Philadelphia-area women, have defamed him by peddling what he calls a “fictional 1991 encounter” of sexual assault, including in online forums. He is seeking at least $50,000 in damages, according to a copy of the suit filed Monday morning in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia.
“The three defendants have sought to achieve their goals by seeking to exploit for their own malicious purposes an important political movement in order to broaden the audience of their false claim among a trusting, unknowing, and unsuspecting public, to wrongfully mobilize and incite unwitting accomplices against plaintiff, and to inflict maximum harm on plaintiff and his family based on accusations they know to be false,” Leach contends in the suit.
Reached for comment, Leach, who has repeatedly denied Taylor’s accusation, said he would not discuss the case until Tuesday. He did not explain why, saying only that he promised his legal team he would be “disciplined.” His lawyer, Joseph R. Podraza Jr. of Sprague & Sprague, did not return a call seeking comment.
Marni Jo Snyder, a Philadelphia lawyer acting as spokesperson for the three women, called Leach’s lawsuit “an unsuccessful attempt to silence these women and an attack on free speech.”
She added: “They have strong voices that they are entitled to use, and I know that there are many people out there who value those voices. I will only say at this time that truth is an absolute defense to the claim and that Mr. Leach’s condemnation of the #MeToo movement as a method for defamation makes me sick.”
In filing the defamation suit, Leach has taken a legal route not often used by public officials who have been accused of misconduct as part of the #MeToo movement. Onetime California lawmaker Matt Dababneh last year sued a lobbyist, claiming she defamed him by alleging he pushed her into a bathroom and masturbated in front of her. Also last year in Alabama, former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of pursuing relationships with teenagers, sued four of his accusers. Those lawsuits are ongoing.
Leach’s lawsuit targets Taylor and two other women — Colleen Kennedy of Havertown and Gwen Snyder of Philadelphia, both activists in the #MeToo movement. He contends Kennedy and Snyder have “shown a reckless disregard for the truth in gleefully republishing and embellishing upon the serial liar’s fabrication.”
Kennedy is among several women who spoke out against Leach after a December 2017 story in the Inquirer and Daily News that detailed allegations from eight women and three men who claimed the senator behaved inappropriately toward young female campaign staffers and volunteers on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2016.
In response, Leach on Facebook called Kennedy “a truly horrific monster,” and a “human wrecking ball of hate.” He later deleted the comment, of which several people took screenshots.
Snyder, a delegate during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, accused a fellow delegate, Walter Weeks, of indecent assault in a case that generated national headlines. A Philadelphia Municipal Court judge acquitted Weeks, ruling that the testimony of two character witnesses provided on Weeks' behalf was enough to raise reasonable doubt.
Senate Democrats announced last week that they had hired an outside law firm to conduct an investigation into Taylor’s allegations. The move came after Taylor distributed to the offices of nearly every senator copies of a private criminal complaint that described the alleged sexual assault.
In the complaint, Taylor alleged that decades ago, Leach had asked her to perform oral sex when she was 17, while he was representing her mother, Kathleen Speth, in an attempted homicide case. Taylor was convicted of perjury after she falsely took the blame for the crime, for which her mother was ultimately convicted.
In his lawsuit, Leach said that Taylor “conveniently declined” to sign the private criminal complaint and distribute it to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said last week that Taylor had met with a prosecutor and investigator from his office, but that his office had not received a formal copy of her complaint. Martin said Taylor was told that her case fell outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges, and that on that fact alone, his office would not pursue it.
On Monday, Temple University law professor and civil rights lawyer David Kairys said it is unusual to see public officials file defamation suits. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York Times v. Sullivan, established that a public official must show the remarks were made with actual malice — “that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.”
Kairys also said the court case differentiated between statements of fact and statements of opinion. The latter, he said, leaves ample room for people to express controversial and even incendiary points of view.
“You don’t see this much, and in my view you shouldn’t,” Kairys said of such lawsuits, “because when you go into public life, you really should have thicker skin than that.”
Kairys also said such suits by public officials run the danger of being viewed as silencing critics.
Such actions, nicknamed SLAPP lawsuits — or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation — have been the subject of legislation in recent years.
Last session, the Senate passed a bill aimed at curbing and quickly resolving such suits. Leach was a cosponsor and voted for it. The measure died in the House.
Editors' Note: Some portions of this suit or its attached exhibits contain sexually graphic information.