SIOUX CITY -- A heated race for a state Senate seat in Sioux City spilled over from the campaign trail to the courts Friday.
Republican Rick Bertrand filed a lawsuit against his Democratic opponent, Rick Mullin, and the Iowa Democratic Party, claiming he was defamed by a campaign ad that claimed Bertrand "put profits ahead of children's' health."
The GOP candidate has asked for an emergency injunction seeking the removal of the ad, as well as unspecified damages against the defendants.
In the ad, which started running on at least one local TV station this week, an off-screen narrator says: "Bertrand was a sales agent for a big drug company that was rated the most unethical company in the world. The FDA singled out Bertrand's company for the marketing of dangerous drugs to children."
In his petition filed Friday in Iowa District Court in Sioux City, Bertrand said he has never owned a drug company or sold or marketed dangerous drugs to children as the voice-over in the ad contends.
Bertrand is a former regional manager for biotech company Takeda North America, the U.S. unit of Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. The company, which is not mentioned in the campaign ad or Bertrand's lawsuit, is one of the top 15 pharmaceutical companies in the United States, according to Takeda's website.
Steven P. Wandro, the Des Moines attorney representing the Democratic Party and Mullin in the case, confirmed Friday that the ad was paid for by the Iowa Democratic Party and was approved by the Mullin for Senate campaign.
Mullin declined to make any comments at all about the ad and referred questions to Wandro. Wandro said he expects to have a court hearing in Sioux City soon, possibly as early as Monday. The petition for injunctive relief was only received in district court Friday afternoon, although Bertrand said he believed the ad had run since at least Thursday on all the Sioux City television stations.
"As far as we're concerned," Wandro said, "the lawsuit is devoid of merit. The ad's gong to stand. There's nothing legally wrong with the ad. The claims are appropriate and true. All it says is Bertrand was a sale agent for the worst-rated company."
In the court filing, Bertrand alleges the defendants "knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, published these malicious, false and defamatory statements about me in hopes of furthering their campaign." The Sioux City businessman and developer said he, his family and business "have been and will continue to be greatly or irreparably injured" if the ad stays on the air.
A statement sent to the Journal by Bertrand's attorney, Jeana Goosmann, said Bertrand is fighting the ad because it attacks him personally, has negatively affected his family members and "on the principle that campaign ads that make personal attacks go too far."
Bertrand and Mullin, who is also a Sioux City businessman, are locked in a battle for Iowa Senate District 1. The seat opened after Democratic Sen. Steve Warnstadt decided not to run for re-election.