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TV segment about juries too broad to defame jurors, appellate court rules

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    News Media Update         FIFTH CIRCUIT         Libel         March 8, 2005    

TV segment about juries too broad to defame jurors, appellate court rules

  • A news program about Mississippi juries did not specifically reference jurors who sued for defamation, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled.

March 8, 2005 — A segment broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes” about large jury verdicts in Mississippi did not defame jurors because it did not specifically reference the six jurors who sued, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.) ruled last week, affirming a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

The November 2002 segment, titled “Jackpot Justice,” focused on allegations of misconduct in a number of multimillion dollar jury verdicts in rural Mississippi, including a $150 million verdict in a 1999 Fen-Phen obesity drug lawsuit in Jefferson County, Miss.

Wylanda Gales and five other jurors in the Fen-Phen case sued CBS in state court in Fayette, Miss., in December 2002, for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. CBS had the case moved to federal court in Gulfport, Miss.

The trial court dismissed the case in July 2004, and on Thursday a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed in a unanimous, unsigned and unpublished opinion. The court held that “at best” the statements were about Jefferson County jurors in general, and that “vague, general references to a comparatively large group” do not support a defamation lawsuit.

(Gales v. CBS Broadcasting, Media Counsel: Luther T. Munford, Phelps Dunbar, Jackson, Miss.)GP


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