Maryland court will not enforce British libel judgment
MARYLAND–The state’s highest court announced in mid-November that it would not enforce a libel judgment from a British court, finding that it was based on principles repugnant to American ideals of free speech.
The Court of Appeals decided that Bethesda journalist Vladimir Matusevitch would not have to obey the 1992 decision of the British High Court of Justice, which ordered him to pay $416,000 in libel damages to journalist Vladimir Telnikoff, who sued him over a letter to the editor that appeared in the London Daily Telegraph.
Laura Handman, attorney for a group of media organizations that filed a brief supporting Matusevitch, said she was pleased by the outcome.
“The court’s opinion appears to be a thorough and thoughtful look at the differences between U.S. and British libel law,” she said. “The judges found the fundamentals of British law sufficiently contrary to the principles of the First Amendment to refuse to enforce the verdict.”
Under British law, Telnikoff was not required to prove that what Matusevitch wrote about him was false, nor was he required to prove that Matusevitch had acted with malicious intent.
The Maryland high court also noted that the British court did not read the editorial by Telnikoff to which Matusevitch had responded in the letters column. When considered together, the Maryland court decided, the war of words between the two journalists was a “vigorous public debate” rather than libel.
Matusevitch and Telnikoff both worked for Radio Free Europe in 1984 when Telnikoff wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph about the British Broadcasting Corporation’s hiring practices. In his editorial, Telnikoff suggested that the Russian correspondents hired by the BBC were almost all members of an elite minority of Russian society. In his letter to the editor responding to the editorial, Matusevitch accused Telnikoff of promoting racist employment standards. (Telnikoff v. Matusevitch; Media Attorney: Arnon Siegal, Washington, D.C.)