McLeod County MNGOP Chair Eric Harpel got in touch today to let us know he's sued his ex-girlfriend, Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, for defamation, illegally accessing his electronic communications, and breach of contract.
Harpel tells us Franson was served on December 7 of last year, "So it's not like she didn't know this was coming."
The Franson-Harpel drama dates back to May 2012, when Franson filed a steamy restraining order against him following their breakup that January. (In one particularly colorful passage from the filing, Franson writes this about what allegedly happened when she asked Harpel about some stuff she left at his place: "I asked him when I could get my belongings and he said he wanted my panties in exchange.")
Harpel has steadfastly maintained the restraining order was without merit, and Franson dismissed it that July. But shortly before that happened, Harpel said his email was hacked, with all his correspondence with Franson, former McLeod County Republican Party official Marie Thurn, and his attorney ending up deleted. But everything was backed up on an external hard drive.
In a subsequent email exchange with us, Harpel linked Franson's decision to drop her restraining order with the hacking, which he believes Franson was responsible for.
"When only that information was deleted and it gets reported and then [Franson] drops [the restraining order] it says a lot!" Harpel wrote. "That information was to be used in court on my behalf to dispute her entire affidavit. She knew I had it too... she had no choice but to drop it as if she didn't her day in court would be ten times worse."
Harpel's allegation about his electronic communications being illegally accessed pertains to the hacking incident. The defamation allegation pertains to the fact Franson badmouthed him in the restraining order but then had it dismissed before Harpel could defend himself in court.
"Ms. Franson chose to cast a dark cloud over a lot of good innocent people, and in my opinion that is completely...unacceptable!" Harpel wrote in an email sent to us earlier today.
Finally, Harpel alleges Franson broke a contract with him by not reimbursing money he loaned her during their relationship.
Harpel emailed us this statement about his lawsuit, reprinted here in full and unedited:
In 2012 Ms. Franson made statements about me in a petition for a harassment restraining order. The statements deeply harmed my family's long standing and very highly regarded reputation. After I filed pleadings contesting her claims Ms. Franson dismissed her petition, denying me an opportunity to defend and exonerate myself. I have made several good faith attempts to resolve this matter privately but those attempts have been unsuccessful. On the advice of my attorney I have now started a defamation lawsuit against Ms. Franson. The Complaint sets forth my claim in detail and is on file with the Douglas County Court. I look forward to finally having the opportunity to share my version of events.To read Franson's statement about the lawsuit, click to page two.
Franson sent this statement to Fargo's KFGO (see the KFGO report here):
Given the fact that Mr. Harpel and I ended our relationship years ago, my children and I deserve to live free of the anxiety Mr. Harpel brings into our lives. It should be noted that Im not the only person Mr. Harpel has tried to intimidate through the court system. In February, a judge dismissed a lawsuit Mr. Harpel had filed in September against a retired woman in McLeod County. Im optimistic well have a similar result in this case.Franson comment about not being the only person Harpel "has tried to intimidate through the court system" pertains to Marie Thurn, a former McLeod County GOP officer who Harpel sued after she resigned her position and said Harpel sent her a threatening message through a third party.
The KFGO report notes that the timing of Harpel's lawsuit might be meant to destroy Franson's political career, as District 8B Republicans are holding their nominating meeting this weekend and Franson faces a strong, heated challenge for the MNGOP nomination from Sue Nelson. You'd have to imagine Harpel's lawsuit won't help her cause.
For instance, KFGO quotes this excerpt from it:
Between August 2011 and February 2012, Mary Franson sent Eric Harpel numerous text, voice, email, and chat messages concerning her depression, her suicide attempts, her abusive behavior, her erratic behavior, her use of antidepressants, her cutting herself and her unfounded concerns of being stalked.KFGO reports that Harpel is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.