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City's 'parking czar' loses libel suit against Cleveland Magazine

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         OHIO         Libel         May 16, 2001    

City’s ‘parking czar’ loses libel suit against Cleveland Magazine

  • Appellate court rules he is a limited purpose public figure who failed to prove actual malice.

If you drive a car in Cleveland, one newspaper article claimed, you know the name James Kassouf.

The Court of Appeals of Ohio in Warren (11th Dist.) agreed and found that Kassouf, a Cleveland developer who contracted with the city to impound vehicles, was a limited purpose public figure. The court ruled on May 11, that Kassouf could not pursue a libel lawsuit against Cleveland Magazine because he failed to present any evidence that the magazine acted with actual malice — knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth — which is required of public figures. The court of appeals ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision that also said Kassouf failed to present the court with a factual dispute.

Kassouf sued the magazine for defamation over a November 1995 magazine article titled “Impounded.” The article referred to Kassouf’s indictment by a federal grand jury for filing false tax returns and attempted tax evasion. But Kassouf claimed the article made defamatory statements about his business knowledge and operations.

The magazine also argued that the article was protected by the fair report privilege because the author relied on the federal grand jury indictment and a federal search warrant affidavit.

The appellate court ruled that Kassouf was a limited purpose public figure because his business activities “thrust him into the center of important public controversies.” The court ruled he participated in public matters and he attained a general notoriety in the community as a result of that participation. Articles cited in evidence tracked Kassouf’s controversial career, which included a cancellation of the city contract in 1987 and the bombing of his parking lots and his parents’ home. The court also noted that he previously filed a million-dollar defamation lawsuit against Cleveland mayor Michael White after White called him “almost a felon.” Kassouf also lost that suit.

(Kassouf v. Cleveland Magazine City Magazines; Media Counsel: David Marburger, Rebecca Lutzko, Cleveland) DB

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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