Connecticut high court overturns $500,000 libel verdict against newspaper
CONNECTICUT — The Connecticut Supreme Court in Hartford in early August unanimously overturned a libel verdict of more than $500,000 in a suit by a zoning commissioner over several articles in the (Manchester) Journal Inquirer.
The articles concerned the commissioner’s possible conflict of interest regarding a subdivision application she voted on.
The court held that regardless of whether the newspaper articles were libelous, the newspaper could not be held liable for damages because the paper did not publish with actual malice, meaning knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.
In a concurrence, Justice David Borden said he would have decided the case on the grounds that the statements were not libelous.
He noted that the actual malice inquiry is expensive to the press, and that “even modest legal costs can deter free public discussion, especially by small independent newspapers and other media who seek to criticize the government and public officials.”
(Woodcock v. Journal Publishing Co.; Media Counsel: Wesley Horton, Hartford)