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Dismissal of political editorial libel suit upheld

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  1. Libel and Privacy
GEORGIA -- In mid-December the Georgia Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that a libel suit brought by a political…

GEORGIA — In mid-December the Georgia Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that a libel suit brought by a political candidate against a newspaper was properly dismissed because the alleged defamatory statements were opinion and not verifiable statements of facts, and therefore not subject to a libel action.

John Frank Collins sued the Atlanta Constitution for libel over an October 1992 editorial entitled “Vote for Collins a mistake.” The editorial endorsed Collins’ opponent in an election for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

The editorial stated in part: “Once, his name was John Collins. But in a deeply cynical and revealing act, he changed it to John Frank Collins during the gubernatorial term of Joe Frank Harris, believing that if he couldn’t be elected on his merits, maybe he could fool voters into putting him into power.”

The court of appeals affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of the libel claim. The court ruled that the editorial opinion that Collins hoped to fool voters did not imply an assertion of objective fact that might be proved false, but merely speculated as to Collins’ motive for changing his name based on his behavior.

The court noted that a writer cannot be sued for libel for simply expressing his or her opinion of another person, no matter how harmful the opinion may seem. The court explained that Collins’ motive for changing his name was a matter about which reasonable people might differ, and thus could not be proven true or false. (Collins v. Cox Enterprises, Inc.; Media Counsel: Peter C. Canfield, Atlanta)