Wyoming high court expands privilege for reporting on judicial proceedings
WYOMING — The Wyoming Supreme Court in Cheyenne ruled in late May that a newspaper’s mischaracterization of a “no contest” plea was privileged from a libel suit because the report was “fair and impartial.”
In April 1992 the Gillette News-Record reported that Larry Dean Casteel had pleaded no contest to a charge of “indecent liberties,” and had admitted to taking “indecent liberties” with a minor. After Casteel complained that he had not admitted guilt, the paper printed a clarification noting that although Casteel pleaded “no contest,” he had denied any wrongdoing.
Casteel sued the News-Record for libel in April 1993 in state district court in Gillette. The court granted the News-Record summary judgment in August 1993.
On appeal, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that the newspaper was protected from suit by Wyoming’s statutory privilege for “fair and impartial” reports of judicial proceedings.
The court ruled that to be “fair” a report must have “qualities of impartiality and honesty, and be free from prejudice, favoritism and self-interest.” The court held that a “fair” report need not be true or accurate.
The court also found that the News-Record did not publish its report with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.
(Casteel v. News-Record, Inc.; Media Counsel: Charles Kepler and Chris Edwards, Cody)