Agreement reached in Burns, Billow injunction hearing

Oct. 27—EBENSBURG, Pa. — An advertisement accusing Renae Billow, the Republican candidate in a local race for a state House of Representatives seat, of scamming taxpayers will be taken down from Facebook, but can still air on television, under an agreement reached during an injunction hearing on Thursday.

Billow, who is challenging incumbent state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, for the 72nd Legislative District seat, filed a lawsuit against Burns, his re-election committee and the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee, accusing them of common law defamation, defamation by imputation of crimes and false light invasion of privacy in regards to the commercial.

She sought an injunction that would stop the ad from being shown while the lawsuit continues.

In announcing the agreement, Cambria County Judge Linda Fleming said there was no admission of liability by the defendants.

"There was an agreement that was reached," said Mark Golen, an attorney for the defendants. "We thought the terms were extremely favorable to us and support the fact that there was no wrongdoing with the defendants we have, Mr. Burns, and that the conduct of Ms. Billow was inappropriate and was properly reflected in the ad that's going to continue to run on TV from now through the election."

Billow and her attorney, Jesse Daniel, both called the agreement a victory for their side.

"We came here today with the narrow goal of having Mr. Burns take down those offensive ads from Facebook," Daniel said. "That's what we achieved, so it's a win."

When asked why the agreement included removing the ad from Facebook posts, but not television, Daniel said there were "other considerations that unfortunately did not allow that to happen today." He has a "sincere hope" the defendants will stop running the ad on television.

Burns said Facebook postings of the advertisement have already been removed, but it will continue to be aired on television.

"We will continue to air the commercial on TV because, like I've maintained this whole time, everything in that ad is factually correct, and we have the documentation to prove it," Burns said.

Burns pointed out that the agreement "still allows me to air this on the major broadcast networks, where the audiences are much larger, because they know this was a frivolous lawsuit."

Only the matter of the injunction request was resolved in the hearing. The full lawsuit will still move forward, although the issue will almost certainly not be resolved before Election Day, Nov. 8.

"It is important to point out that the case is not dropped," Daniel said. "The case will continue. What has happened here today is that our preliminary request that Mr. Burns take down the offensive ad — he has agreed to do that. Now the defamation case will continue going forward, but, at least right now, this is what happens today."

In the commercial, Billow is accused of having "scammed taxpayer money" by receiving a $9,821.98 subordinate home mortgage through a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act program after she lost her job at the start of the pandemic and then, a few weeks later, using $1,500 in personal money to purchase a piece of land near her house. The ad also depicted Billow in a mugshot-style photo, even though no records have ever been produced to show she has been arrested for any alleged crime.

Billow said receiving the forbearance loan and purchasing the second property were unconnected matters.

"It's sad that a 14-year incumbent can't run on his own record and resorts to lies to distort my character," Billow said, "so, for me, it's a win today."