Judge rules that calling Kevorkian ‘killer’ is libelous
MICHIGAN–Press releases and other publicized announcements by the American Medical Association referring to Dr. Jack Kevorkian as a “criminal” who “kills” victims constitute libel per se — defamatory without need to prove they caused harm — a state court ruled in late May.
A Circuit Court judge in Detroit denied the association’s motion for summary judgment. The AMA said it plans to appeal.
The court rejected AMA arguments that the words amounted to mere opinion as to the nature of Kevorkian’s actions. Such accusations could draw inferences that Kevorkian was “a murderer, as opposed to a committer of justifiable homicide,” the court said.
Because murder is considered malum per se, or an evil in itself, as opposed to malum prohibitum, an act prohibited by law, calling Kevorkian a “killer” is “so strong and so unequivocal” that it cannot qualify as mere opinion, the court ruled.
Refusing to find the statements constitutionally protected speech shielded from a defamation claim, the court observed that although Kevorkian had been charged with murder, he had not been convicted. (Kevorkian v. AMA; AMA counsel: Jack Birig, Detroit)