John Rich files defamation lawsuit

Friday, April 10, 2009 at 1:45pm
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In a dispute that has seen an ample measure of trash-talking from both sides, singer-songwriter John Rich has gone to court with fightin' words for aspiring country singer Jared Ashley.

Rich, who is half of the duo Big & Rich, filed suit this week against Ashley, who was a finalist during the 2006 series of the reality TV series Nashville Star. The legal action, filed in Davidson County Circuit Court and accessible at this link, accuses Ashley of defamation over comments he made last month to a Tampa radio station.

The comments concerned a pair of recent encounters between Rich and Ashley. One of those episodes took place on the stage of Lower Broad's Legend's Corner music venue and is depicted in a YouTube video that can be viewed in a YouTube video that can be viewed at this link.

In the video, Rich is shown on the stage while Ashley is singing. Holding a beer bottle, with his back to the crowd, he speaks to Ashley, stares at him for a while, appears to tell the band members something while making a downward gesture with his hand, and finally leaves the stage with encouragement from security guards.

"From the video, you can clearly tell it's not a good conversation," Ashley said in an interview Wednesday night.

Rich's lawsuit says that in one of his interviews with the radio station, "Ashley implies or states that he asked Plaintiff Rich to come on stage as a friendly gesture" but that actually he invited Rich "in a taunting manner because he knew that Plaintiff Rich would not do so because of the fracture in the relationship caused by Defendant Ashley when he broke into Plaintiff Rich's home."

Both parties agree that Rich has accused Ashley of breaking and entering several years ago. One of Rich's legal claims is that Ashley told the radio station Rich was lying about the alleged break-in. The lawsuit states: "Defendant Ashley knows that Plaintiff Rich is not lying and knows that the fact that Plaintiff Rich chose not to press charges has no bearing on whether Defendant Ashley broke into Plaintiff Rich's home."

Ashley has claimed that he was invited to Rich's home late one night for an after-hours party. He has said, in an affidavit for a federal lawsuit filed last year by singer-songwriter Chris Sevier against Rich, that he and a friend showed up, saw the lights and TV on, and opened the door but saw nobody present. They then heard an alarm chime, he said, and so they closed the door and left without ever entering the house.

"John's done a lot of things for me in my career," Ashley told The City Paper. He credits Rich with getting him onto Nashville Star. But the claim of a break-in, he said, "could possibly ruin my career in this town, and it's not true. If somebody broke into your house, would you help them with their career or would you have them arrested?"

Hitting The Spot

Early on the morning of March 13, Rich and Ashley had another encounter at The Spot, a private bar Rich maintains in the building that houses the restaurant Paradise Park Trailer Resort at 411 Broadway. Ashley's version of what happened there, from his affidavit, goes as follows:

Rich sent a text to someone with whom Ashley was out on the town, inviting him and his friends to The Spot. Rich was "specifically informed who was in the group." Rich greeted Ashley and the others at the door in a friendly manner and offered them free drinks. Everyone had a good time for a couple of hours.

At some point, as Ashley was talking with a party guest about music business matters. Rich joined the conversation and began "belittling" Ashley. As Ashley tried to leave, Rich reached around a large bodyguard and "sucker-punched Mr. Ashley in the left jaw." Then "as a form of misdirection," Rich began yelling to the crowd that Ashley had broken into his house.

Rich's version of the events, as given in his lawsuit and in affidavits filed yesterday in the Sevier case:

Ashley, in an "obnoxiously drunk" state, "approached and confronted" Rich after gaining entry, uninvited, to The Spot. Rich asked him to leave, and after he caused "a disturbance," security guards threw him out. Ashley then tried to sneak back into The Spot at least three times, but was barred by security guards.

Rich's lawsuit does not make reference to a voicemail message Ashley said he received around 6 a.m. on the morning of the 13th, as he slept at home. Ashley claims in his affidavit that he recognized one voice on the message as Rich's and the other as belonging to Sebastian Bach, a former member of rock band Skid Row whom Ashley said he had seen at The Spot prior to the confrontation.

Ashley's affidavit, available at this link, gives a transcript of the voicemail starting at page 23. The language is abusive and very explicit. Audio of the call (along with audio of the Ashley interviews that gave rise to Rich's lawsuit) is available at the Web site of Tampa radio station US 103.5.

The person Ashley identified as Rich was heard on the voicemail telling Ashley: "Brother, I'm gonna knock the s**t out of you."

Jawbone jitters

Most recently, Ashley told The City Paper, John Rich made his mama cry.

In the wake of what he perceived as threats on his voicemail, Ashley believed Rich had him in mind when he took to the firing range at the Plowboy Mansion — Barbara Mandrell's former Fontanel mansion in White's Creek — for an episode of CMT Cribs that is now airing.

"Normal people shoot at targets that look something like this," Rich says on the broadcast, holding up a standard shooting target. "However, at the Plowboy Mansion, we like to make our own targets." Rich then flips over a target and draws on its blank side. The face he draws has a goatee; part of a hat is visible on the head. Rich writes something underneath the photo, but CMT has obscured the image of what he wrote.

Rich sends the target down a zip line and fires several bullets into it from a high-caliber pistol. He then retrieves the target.

"I took his jawbone out because I'm tired of hearing him talk," Rich tells the camera.

The show is scheduled to air again on Friday at 1:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., on CMT. It is viewable online at this link."My Mom was bawling when she saw that," Ashley said.

The impression that he was the model for Rich's drawing, however, now appears to be inaccurate. Cyndi Parson of Neal & Harwell in Nashville, representing Rich in both the Sevier case and the lawsuit against Ashley, filed an unexpurgated copy of the target with the federal court yesterday in order to disprove the claim that Ashley's name had been on it. The name seen on the bottom of the target, as viewable at this link, is "Bin Laden."

Why CMT would feel a need to blur out the name of the world's most notorious terrorist is not immediately clear.

Accusations of sabotage

Rich notes in his lawsuit that Ashley made his allegedly defamatory comments to the Tampa station the same week Rich's second solo album, "Son of a Preacher Man," was being released. The legal filing says Tampa is the "largest market for Big & Rich sales." Rich and his record label have had to respond to Ashley's statements when they might have been promoting the album, the lawsuit says.

Ashley, according to Rich, "intentionally chose the time and market in which to publicize his knowingly false and knowingly defamatory statements so as to maximize the potential injury" to Rich's reputation. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages against Ashley.

In addition to Parson, Bill Ramsey and Jonathan Wardle of Neal & Harwell are representing Rich.

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