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N.J. high court to decide future of state "fair report" privilege

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  1. Libel and Privacy
The New Jersey Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in the appeal of a 2008 libel ruling that considerably…

The New Jersey Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in the appeal of a 2008 libel ruling that considerably narrowed the state’s “fair report” privilege that protects journalists who report on information contained in court filings, Newark’s The Star-Ledger reported.

Before the appellate court ruling, journalists in New Jersey could not be sued for libel if they accurately reported from any court documents, even if the allegations in the lawsuit later proved to be false. In the case, plaintiff Thomas John Salzano had sued The Bergen Record and The Glen Ridge Voice for libel after the papers reported details from pleadings in a federal bankruptcy lawsuit against him that included descriptions of an alleged misappropriation of funds from a telecommunications company, The Star-Ledger reported. The trial court had dismissed the libel claim, citing the fair report privilege.

The appellate opinion had narrowed the privilege, holding that it applied to reporting from final judgments of the court but not pretrial filings. In today’s oral argument, Bruce Rosen, attorney for the North Jersey Media Group, which owns The Record, stressed that this approach is used only in a minority of jurisdictions across the country.

In January of this year, the state’s supreme court stayed the appellate ruling until it determined whether it would grant the appeal and temporarily restored the fair report privilege to its prior state. A final opinion is not expected for several weeks.