Ohio high court upholds libel suit dismissal, ruling police detective a public official
OHIO — The Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus ruled unanimously in early June that a trial court properly awarded summary judgment to the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a libel suit brought by a police detective.
The suit arose from a 1990 trial in which the detective, Dennis Soke, testified about discussions he had with his nephew, a murder suspect. Soke testified that he “encouraged him many, many times to please tell the truth and get the thing over with. And explain to them everything . . .”
The Plain Dealer’s article about Soke’s testimony reported that he “told his nephew to keep quiet, to stop talking to investigators about his involvement in an Eastlake stabbing death.” The newspaper later ran a correction.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the detective was a public official, and that his testimony about his advice to his nephew was relevant to his fitness to hold his job. Therefore, the court decided, the newspaper’s report about that testimony was protected because it was not published with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.
Because Soke did not contend that the newspaper published its report with actual malice, the court held that the paper was entitled to summary judgment.
(Soke v. Plain Dealer; Media Counsel: Louis Colombo and Loretta Garrison, Cleveland)