Senator's Company Files Defamation Lawsuit Over Reporting on Unpaid Labor Complaints

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (Arkansas Times) -- Sen. Jim Hendren's plastics company has filed a defamation lawsuit against a lawyer, Timothy Steadman, who has brought one of two lawsuits naming the company as a defendant over an arrangement in which drug court defendants work without pay for private businesses including Hendren Plastics.

The lawsuit, first reported this morning in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, objects specifically to a TV interview given by Steadman:

Defendant stated:

^^These programs are supposed to help people combat addiction, not turn them into slaves for businesses that are unashamedly for profit"

The reporter, Katie Davidson then stated, "Attorneys for the two bringing the suit say it doesn't matter if Simmons Food and Hendren Plastics paid."

The story again rebroadcasts the Defendant's statement in which he stated, "Hendren and Simmons Food and the other business that use these men and women are who is profiting from this. They control the employment."

Hendren and Simmons Foods, also named in several lawsuits in Arkansas and Oklahoma courts, have said from the beginning that they pay a prevailing wage to two purported rehabilitation agencies. The agencies provide housing and food for people who agree to participate in the drug court-directed programs rather than face criminal sentences. The agencies cover their costs, including employees' pay, with the money. The workers themselves are unpaid. Four lawsuits have been filed alleging that the arrangement amounts to slavery. They also make allegations about poor living conditions, poor working conditions, poor food, poor rehabilitation programs and, in one case, rampant drug use in the work camp operated in Arkansas.

Hendren's lawsuit is filed by the company, not by Hendren himself. It says the corporation is not a public figure, important in defamation law. It is harder to sue a public figure under court precedent, where the standard is reckless disregard for the truth. Hendren is CEO of the company, which he founded with his father, Rep. Kim Hendren.

Said the suit:

Defendant's statements that Hendren Plastics profited from slave labor was an assertion of fact and not a mere opinion. The Defendant's assertions of fact were categorically false.

The Arkansas Constitution prohibits uncompensated work. The defamation suit won't resolve that and other allegations that remain pending in the lawsuits, including a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Oklahoma. But it serves public relations purposes, useful if cases go to jury trials.

From the beginning, Hendren has indicated he thought he was doing workers a service by providing a means other than prison to work off drug violations.

Here's the Hendren Plastics lawsuit.


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