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Losing Wisc. candidate can't sue paper for libel, court rules

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Wisconsin lawyer who lost his 2002 bid for attorney general amid ethics concerns is also now out of luck in his related libel…

A Wisconsin lawyer who lost his 2002 bid for attorney general amid ethics concerns is also now out of luck in his related libel suit against a local newspaper.

The Court of Appeals in Wausau (3rd Dist.) on Tuesday upheld the dismissal of Vince Biskupic’s lawsuit against the Shawano Leader. In a 2004 report, the paper erroneously said Biskupic, a prosecutor for at least nine years, had been convicted of taking bribes to drop cases.

In fact, state ethics investigators did nothing more than wag a finger at Biskupic for agreeing to drop cases in exchange for donations to his private anti-crime fund, The Associated Press reported. A district attorney from another county, where Biskupic once worked, in fact was convicted of bribery.

The Shawano Leader ran a correction the next day. But Biskupic wasn’t satisfied. He filed suit against the paper in 2005 saying that by the time the story ran, his race for public office was over and he’d returned to the life of a private citizen.

Public figures generally have a harder time proving libel than private citizens; for those who seek to live in the public eye, offending words must have been printed with actual malice — knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.

That’s not quite what happened here, the appeals court said: While the story was probably poorly reported, "failure to verify information, without more, is not evidence of actual malice."

And besides, the court said, the bribery reports lingered in the news for several years after the campaign ended. "Biskupic cannot escape public inquiry into his official conduct simply by leaving office."