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High court refuses to hear Jewell appeal

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         GEORGIA         Libel         Feb 12, 2002    

High court refuses to hear Jewell appeal

  • The one-time suspect in the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics had challenged a ruling that he is a public figure and that reporters did not have to reveal their sources of accusations against him.

The Georgia Supreme Court decided on Feb. 11 not to hear the appeal of Richard Jewell, who is suing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for libel for naming him as a suspect in the bombing at the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Jewell wanted the high court to reverse the Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling in October that he is a public figure who must prove actual malice to win damages. Under that standard, Jewell must show that the newspaper published information knowing it was false or with reckless disregard as to its truth. If he were a private figure, he would have to show only that the newspaper was negligent.

The lower court also ruled that the newspaper did not have to reveal confidential sources.

L. Lin Wood, Jewell’s attorney, said he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Georgia Court of Appeals’ decision that Jewell was a public figure was based partly on the 10 interviews he gave to the press before he became a suspect. That ruling penalizes private citizens who voluntarily talk to the media, Wood said.

“Why should a private citizen be penalized and lose protection from defamation by agreeing to an interview?” Wood said.

Jewell had been credited with discovering the bomb, alerting authorities and evacuating bystanders. The FBI initially focused its investigation on Jewell but later dropped him as a suspect.

(Jewell v. Cox Enterprises; Media counsel: Peter Canfield, Atlanta) MD

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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