Saturday, April 23, 2005

Va. Supreme Court overturns defamation jury award to public official

In Jordan v. Kollman, the Virginia Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Agee overturned a defamation verdict in favor of the former mayor of the City of Colonial Heights, based on statements made in an advertisement purchased by the defendant on the eve of municipal elections.

The jury awarded compensatory damages of $75,000 and punitive damages of $125,000. The trial court judge ordered a remittitur of these amounts to $15,000 and $35,000.

The defendant basically won the case because of his ignorance, that he didn't know what he was saying in the ads was untrue. The Supreme Court agreed, that there was insufficient proof of actual malice within the meaning of that term from the NY Times v. Sullivan line of cases. Actual malice was required because the plaintiff, as a political candidate and public officeholder, was plainly a public figure. So, the judgment was reversed on the insufficiency of the evidence.

Larry O'Dell for the AP has this story about the case, in which the defendant says he thought the case was "frivolous" all along. Osita Iroegbu has this report for the Richmond paper.

I have to laugh when the defense loses on demurrer, loses on a motion for summary judgment, loses on the jury verdict after a three-day trial, loses on post-trial motions, and then wins on appeal, and then says the case was frivolous. Whatever it was, it was not frivolous.

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