Thursday, May 03, 2007

NH Court Says Repeat Criminal Not 'Libel Proof'

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that a repeat criminal is "libel proof" -- meaning that his reputation was already so bad that false statements in a newspaper could not make it worse. According to an Associated Press report published by the Concord Monitor, state prison inmate Terry Thomas will now be able to proceed with his libel lawsuit against The Telegraph of Nashua and police officers who were quoted in the article. The AP report says:
"The Telegraph had argued Thomas was libel-proof for two reasons: He already had such a lengthy criminal record that even false statements could not damage his reputation further, and any disputed statements in the article would not harm his reputation beyond the true statements in the same article."
But the Supreme Court said the first ground would apply only if the plaintiff was already notorious because of widespread publicity about his crimes, which was not the case with Thomas. "Criminal convictions alone are not enough to justify application of the doctrine," the court said.

The court declined to decide the second question, the AP reports, saying that Thomas had challenged more than half the statements in the article and that, while evidence supported some of them as true, the lower court had not decided whether others were false, statements of opinion or protected by the fair-reporting privilege.

The full text of the opinion is here.

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