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Sunday, November 24, 2002

Former mayor sues radio host who called him "Mayor Osama"

HOUSTON (AP) - A former Sugar Land mayor has sued a radio talk show host who wrote several newspaper columns referring to the mayor as "Mayor Osama."

Dean Hrbacek's lawsuit alleges that his reputation was damaged by host Jon Matthews, who made false, malicious and defamatory statements about the mayor.

Matthews wrote the columns in the weekly Fort Bend/Southwest Star in the weeks prior to a May election in which Hrbacek was defeated by a city council member.

Matthews and the paper's publisher described the lawsuit as an attempt to muzzle a free press and an attack on a citizen's right to criticize a public official.

"We stand behind Jon on this and we are going to fight it," newspaper Publisher Beverly Carter said Friday.

Hrbacek declined to discuss the lawsuit Friday and referred calls for comment to his attorney, Mark D. Wilson, who did not return a phone call.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the 400th District Court of Fort Bend County, cites several passages written by Matthews that refer to the mayor as "Mayor Osama" or "Dean Osama Hrbacek," in reference to Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida group is blamed for the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"By the publication of the libelous material, Hrbacek has been, is and will be greatly injured in his reputation, brought into public disrepute, and held up to contempt and ridicule among relatives, friends and citizens of the City of Sugar Land and other parts of this state," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit said Hrbacek, who is an attorney, has endured shame and embarrassment and that his business and reputation have been injured.

Carter said Matthews' columns are obviously humorous, are political commentary and are not meant to be taken literally.

"He is being sued for making fun of a politician? I thought that was the inalienable right of every American citizen," Carter said.

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