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S.D. high court won't halt libel suit

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  1. Libel and Privacy
The South Dakota Supreme Court has greenlighted for trial a libel suit against the Argus Leader, declining to step in…

The South Dakota Supreme Court has greenlighted for trial a libel suit against the Argus Leader, declining to step in and declare a disputed 2007 column a piece of constitutionally protected parody.

Former Sioux Falls development head Dan Scott’s million-dolllar lawsuit against the newspaper alleges the column, which mocked statements he made during a Chamber of Commerce speech, damaged his reputation.

Lawyers for the paper had asked the high court to nip the suit in the bud by declaring the column "protected satire." The court refused, and the case is now headed for a jury.  

“The Argus Leader’s day in court is a long time coming, but it will soon be here, and they will have to do what everybody else has had to do when it’s been their turn to stand before the bar of justice," former U.S. Rep Bill Janklow, representing Scott, told The Associated Press. "They will be seated in front of a jury of 12 citizens who will decide if they libeled Dan Scott and how much they damaged him."

The dispute dates back to June 15, 2007, when Scott went before the chamber and gave a speech, portions of which Argus Leader Publisher Arnold Garson viewed as disparaging, according to The AP.  Scott sent lawmakers a letter clarifying his remarks.

Then in mid-July, Randell Beck, executive editor of the paper, penned a column he said was a "reasonable facsimile" of the letter. The headline read, "Divisively arrogant: Dan Scott’s apology." Scott sought a retraction and ultimately filed suit, according to the The AP, because he said many people believed he’d really written the column, to the detriment of his reputation.

Whether Scott is a public or private figure, and so how high the burden of proof for libel will be, hasn’t yet been decided in court.