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Court Lets Ohio Libel Ruling Stand

November 1, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to reinstate a libel and invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against an Ohio newspaper a 1990 series of articles about alleged police misconduct.

The court, without comment, let stand rulings that threw out the case against The Blade by eight Toledo police officers and the widows of two dead policemen.

The articles were based on police records the newspaper had obtained after going to court and seeking public disclosure of records of the city police force’s internal affairs unit. The articles discussed, among other things, reports of police violence, sexual misconduct, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Lawyers for those who sued the newspaper contended that the articles ``simulated investigative reporting″ but were ``merely a cumulative result of digging through 20 years worth of old complaints and allegations in internal affairs files that were for the most part so unsubstantiated they never resulted in any public charge or proceedings.″

Lawyers for The Blade urged the justices to reject the appeal. They said the lawsuit long has advanced ``a profusion of meritless claims.″

A state judge in 1997 threw out the 1990 lawsuit without allowing it to reach a jury. A state appeals court upheld the dismissal and the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the ensuing appeal last March.

In commenting on the invasion-of-privacy allegations, the trial judge noted that The Blade published material it lawfully had obtained in a public-records request.

``If by some chance the custodian of those records failed to redact information that should have remained private, then punishing The Blade for publishing such matter cannot be held to serve a highest-order government interest,″ Judge William Skow said.

``Consequently, since the material ... was lawfully obtained and concerned a matter of public significance, and since punishing The Blade ... would not serve a state interest of the highest order, punishment is constitutionally precluded,″ he added.

About the libel allegations, the judge ruled that those who sued the newspaper had failed to prove the allegedly libelous statements were written with ``actual malice″ _ knowledge or ``reckless disregard″ of falsity.

Joining in the lawsuit were Toledo police officers Michael Early, Mary Ann Hodak, John P. Smith, George Taylor, Robert Case, Martin Schabor, Robert Barboza and Kimberly Kristof. Jane Lewis and Linda Leichty, the widows of Toledo policemen, also participated in the lawsuit.

The case is Early vs. The Toledo Blade, 99-331.

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