N.J. high court upholds newspaper’s win in libel suit filed by police officer
NEW JERSEY — In mid-July the New Jersey Supreme Court in Trenton upheld an appellate court’s award of summary judgment to a newspaper sued for libel by a police officer accused of fondling a suspect.
The case arose from a November 1990 article in the Ocean County Observer about an unsigned “draft complaint” that had been attached as an exhibit to the pleadings in a different, pending case. This draft complaint, which was never filed on its own, described the alleged police misconduct.
In June 1993 the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, in Trenton ruled that the article was protected by the state’s statutory privilege for fair reports of judicial proceedings.
The appeals court found that the paper carelessly reported that the draft complaint’s allegations about the officer were being litigated in the case that contained the draft as an exhibit. But the court held that the paper did not publish the information with actual malice, meaning knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the fair report privilege did not apply, because the article was inconsistent, misleading and confusing, and did not accurately describe the judicial proceeding, the Associated Press reported.
The court agreed with the appeals court that the Observer did not publish with actual malice.
(Costello v. Ocean County Observer; Media Counsel: Gregory Harvey, Philadelphia)