Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Friday, February 20, 2009

Boston Decision Radically Alters Libel Laws

Robert J. Ambrogi is a Massachusetts lawyer and journalist. He is executive director of the Mass. Newspaper Publishers Association. He publishes the Media Law Blog, and this week sent chills down my spine with a first amendment libel case that can have enormous impact.

Here are his opening words:

"A bedrock principle of libel law is that truth is an absolute defense. If what you say about someone is true, the person cannot win a libel case against you, even if you defame them. The federal appeals court in Boston put a jackhammer to the bedrock this week. In Noonan v. Staples, it ruled that even a true statement can be subject to a libel lawsuit if it was said with actual malice. In so deciding, the three-judge panel did an about face, reversing its own earlier decision in the same case. You need not be superstitious to appreciate the import of this Friday the 13th ruling. It is the most dangerous libel decision in decades. The decision puts a crack in the bedrock that threatens to undermine free speech."

Florida's Supreme Court recently rejected the principle of a 'false light' tort of defamation. It was a close call. It was a big case. So is this one. If you practice in this area, it is a case you need to read.
Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Gordon P. Firemark blogs: "If allowed to stand, this case could make anybody a potential defendant. It will certainly have a chilling effect on important forms of speech, such as documentary films and many forms of investigative journalism."

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