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Supreme Court declines to hear several media law appeals

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    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Libel         Oct 8, 2002    

Supreme Court declines to hear several media law appeals

  • Lower court decisions will stand in libel, access, and broadcasting cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals in several media law cases, in an order released Oct. 7, the first day of the court’s new term.

Among the cases the Court refused was an appeal from Richard Jewell, the former security guard who claimed he was libeled when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported he was a suspect in the bombing that occurred at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Jewell sought to change a ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals, which found in October 2001 that Jewell was a limited-purpose public figure and therefore must prove that statements made about him were not only false and damaging but made with “actual malice” — knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth. Private figures do not have to prove actual malice.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Jewell’s appeal clears the way for the Georgia trial court to decide the newspaper’s 1998 motion to dismiss.

In another libel case, the Supreme Court declined to consider whether Sports Illustrated reporters acted with actual malice when they wrote that former professional boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb was involved in fixing a match and used cocaine. A federal appeals court had overturned a $10.7 million verdict against Sports Illustrated in January 2002, finding a lack of actual malice.

The Supreme Court also rejected an appeal in a case brought by Frank Sinatra Jr. Sinatra sued the author of “Snatching Sinatra,” a story published in the New Times L.A. and written by Barry Keenan, who was convicted of kidnapping Sinatra Jr. in 1963. Columbia Pictures offered $1.5 million for the film rights to the story. Sinatra argued that the California Victims Rights Law, a so-called “Son-of-Sam” law, prevented Keenan from collecting profits from the story about the crime. The California Supreme Court struck down the law, finding it infringed on Keenan’s First Amendment rights.

The Court denied review in Unidentified Private Citizen v. McClatchy Newspapers after granting the request of the petitioner and his attorney to file the appeal anonymously. The unnamed petitioner asked the court to review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.), which had ordered a federal trial court to release to the Sacramento Bee unredacted copies of two letters filed as part of a California public official’s request to reduce his criminal sentence for accepting bribes. The petitioner before the high court was one of the individuals whose names had been redacted from the letters, whom the convicted state official had alleged to prosecutors was involved in an illegal bribe.

In Grid Radio v. FCC, the court declined to review an unlicensed microbroadcaster’s challenge to an FCC order to stop broadcasting and to the $11,000 fine it imposed. Broadcaster Jerry Szoka, who is separately challenging an FCC ban keeping anyone convicted of illegal broadcasting from now applying for valid microbroadcasting license, argued that the FCC penalty was unconstitutional, but the appellate court upheld the order and penalty.

(Jewell v. Cox Enterprises, Inc.; Media counsel: Peter C. Canfield, Dow, Lohnes & Albertson, Atlanta; Cobb v. Time Inc.; Media counsel: Floyd Abrams, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, New York; Sinatra v. Keenan; Media counsel: Stephen Rhode, Los Angeles; Unidentified Private Citizen v. McClatchy Newspapers; Media counsel: Charity Kenyon, Riegels Campos & Kenyon, Sacramento; Grid Radio v. FCC; Media counsel: Hans F. Bader, Center for Individual Rights, Washington, D.C.) WT

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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