Wednesday, January 16, 2008

ANALYSIS: Higher Standard of Proof Required

Due to the media's First Amendment rights, former commissioner Molly Henderson's suit again the Lancaster Newspapers et al. will have to surmount a higher standard of proof than would have been required for a suit against an individual.

The controlling case in law is New York Times vs. Sullivan. The following is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article:

"New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, was a United States Supreme Court case which established the actual malice actual standard before press reports could be considered to be defamation and libel and hence allowed free reporting of the civil rights campaigns in the southern United States. It is one of the key decisions supporting the freedom of the press. The actual malice standard requires that the plaintiff in a defamation or libel case prove that the publisher of the statement in question knew that the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity. Because of the extremely high burden of proof on the plaintiff, and the difficulty in proving essentially what is inside a person's head, such cases — when they involve public figures — rarely prevail."

The circumstances under which Henderson is suing the Lancaster Newspapers differ from the Sullivan case since Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. is accused of biased reporting to promote its business interest as a partner in Penn Square Partners, the developer of the future Marriott Hotel. Motivation is an important factor to be weighed by a jury.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the case, newspaper employees will be called upon to testify concerning what inappropriate influence, if any, took place. If the case actually gets to trial, barring an out of court settlement, it will probably be the 'best show in town' for those from Lancaster who care to travel to the Chester County Court House.