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Jury finds editor, publisher and newspaper guilty of criminal libel

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         KANSAS         Libel         Jul 19, 2002    

Jury finds editor, publisher and newspaper guilty of criminal libel

  • The criminal charges stemmed from the newspaper’s stories accusing a mayor and judge of failing to live in the county where they hold their elected jobs.

A jury found a Kansas newspaper, its editor and publisher guilty of criminal libel, a crime that has become obsolete in most states.

The Wyandotte County District Court jury on July 17 found Observer Publications, publisher David Carson and editor Edward H. Powers Jr. guilty of seven counts each of misdemeanor libel, The Kansas City Star reported.

Carson and Powers could be fined and jailed for up to a year. They plan to appeal, the Star reported.

The criminal charges concerned reports in The New Observer that Wyandotte County Unified Government Mayor Carol Marinovich and her husband, Wyandotte County District Judge Ernest Johnson, did not live in Wyandotte County, where they are required to live to hold their elected jobs.

The newspaper, which is published monthly in print and online, asked in its November 2000 issue: “Is gossip that Marinovich lives in Johnson County true?”

In January 2001, the newspaper admitted Marinovich did not live there. But the paper said, “We are completely convinced that ‘Mayor/CEO’ Carol Marinovich and her husband, District Court Judge Ernie Johnson maintain a home in Johnson County.”

Less than half of the states have a criminal defamation statute. Some of those statutes have been invalidated by court decision.

The concept of imprisoning someone for speech is a throwback to the 16th century English Star Chamber, which premised its law on the notion that defamations caused breaches of the peace. In the 19th century, criminal defamation laws were viewed as a protection against duels.

(Kansas v. Carson; Media counsel: Mark Birmingham, Kansas City, Kan., for David Carson; Douglas J. Patterson, Leawood, Kan., for Edward Powers and Observer Publications) MD

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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