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Libel suit reinstated in favor of 'renounced' Simpson witness

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Libel         Dec 19, 2000    

Libel suit reinstated in favor of ‘renounced’ Simpson witness

  • An appellate court held that the defamation statute of limitations period only starts when the defamation is discovered, or when it is republished in a mass media publication.

A California appellate court reinstated a libel case brought by a woman who claims she was defamed in a book about the O.J. Simpson prosecution. On Dec. 8, the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles (2nd Dist) reversed a trial court ruling that dismissed a libel case brought by Jill Shively against individuals quoted in Joseph Bosco’s A Problem of Evidence: How the Prosecution Freed O.J. Simpson.

Shively testified to a grand jury in the O.J. Simpson prosecution in June 1994. She claimed to have seen Simpson leave the area of the crime soon after the killing of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. Prosecutors later renounced her assertions after she appeared on television show “Hard Copy.” Shively sued the author, publisher and individuals — including a deputy district attorney and Shively’s former boyfriend — who were quoted in the book saying that the reason her testimony was renounced was that she was “a felony probationer.”

The trial court dismissed the case because the statute of limitations had run. The allegedly defamatory comment was made in 1994, the book was published in 1996, and Shively sued in late 1997. California libel and slander laws have a one-year statute of limitations.

The plaintiffs argued that the statute of limitations began running either upon the statement’s first utterance or upon publication of the book, both of which were more than a year before Shively filed suit. Shively raised the “discovery rule” in her defense; she argued that a cause of action does not accrue until the plaintiff knows or has reason to know that he or she has been injured. The court here agreed and held that the rule applies to toll the running of the statute of limitations in defamation cases and also applies when the defendant’s alleged defamatory statement is republished in a mass media publication.

(Shively v. Bozanich; Defendant Counsel: Cindy S. Lee, Franscell, Strickland, Roberts & Lawrence, Santa Ana) DB

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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