Court Rules Article Reporting About "False Testimony" Not "Actual Malice"

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A Maryland court dismissed a defamation lawsuit against a newspaper, filed by a former chief deputy state's attorney, over articles reporting that he had given "false testimony" about a murder investigation. The articles in the Carroll County Times centered on prosecutor David Daggett's testimony at a hearing about whether he had received "any calls" on the night of September 13, 2010, from law enforcement "with questions about" the slaying of Jeremiah DeMario. Daggett responded, "Not to my knowledge, no."

After Daggett testified, 10 sources told the reporter that Daggett had received a call from the murder scene. The sheriff also showed the reporter a phone bill and introduced him to the sergeant who phoned Daggett. After calling Daggett for comment and being told that he did not remember the sergeant's call, the newspaper ran a story with the headline, "Daggett Gave False Testimony."

Daggett was fired and days later, he sued the newspaper and reporter. The court held that Daggett's role as a supervisor at the state's attorney's office made him a public official. He therefore had the burden to establish that the articles were published with "actual malice." After oral argument, the court ruled that the reporter demonstrated "the opposite of actual malice." The court concluded that the reporter took "exhaustive measures" in preparing the story, including watching Daggett's live testimony, gathering 10 sources, consulting with his editor on appropriate language and waiting seven weeks before submitting the article for publication.

Daggett has appealed the court's award of summary judgment to the newspaper and the reporter. Holland & Knight represents the Carroll County Times and its reporter in this matter.

- See more at: http://www.hklaw.com/publications/Court-Rules-Article-Reporting-About-False-Testimony-Not-Actual-Malice-01-14-2014/#sthash.iKjmosJ2.dpuf\

A Maryland court dismissed a defamation lawsuit against a newspaper, filed by a former chief deputy state's attorney, over articles reporting that he had given "false testimony" about a murder investigation. The articles in the Carroll County Times centered on prosecutor David Daggett's testimony at a hearing about whether he had received "any calls" on the night of September 13, 2010, from law enforcement "with questions about" the slaying of Jeremiah DeMario. Daggett responded, "Not to my knowledge, no."

After Daggett testified, 10 sources told the reporter that Daggett had received a call from the murder scene. The sheriff also showed the reporter a phone bill and introduced him to the sergeant who phoned Daggett. After calling Daggett for comment and being told that he did not remember the sergeant's call, the newspaper ran a story with the headline, "Daggett Gave False Testimony."

Daggett was fired and days later, he sued the newspaper and reporter. The court held that Daggett's role as a supervisor at the state's attorney's office made him a public official. He therefore had the burden to establish that the articles were published with "actual malice." After oral argument, the court ruled that the reporter demonstrated "the opposite of actual malice." The court concluded that the reporter took "exhaustive measures" in preparing the story, including watching Daggett's live testimony, gathering 10 sources, consulting with his editor on appropriate language and waiting seven weeks before submitting the article for publication.

Daggett has appealed the court's award of summary judgment to the newspaper and the reporter. Holland & Knight represents the Carroll County Times and its reporter in this matter.