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It ain’t news till a judge says it is

There was a disturbing report out of a New Jersey appellate court recently, where judges reversed a lower court and allowed a libel suit to go forward, even though the story that prompted the suit accurately quoted from filings in court — generally known in circles legal and journalistic as the fair report privilege.

Thomas John Salzano sued The Record and The Glen Ridge Voice after the two papers reported a bankruptcy trustee had filed a complaint against him for allegedly misappropriating $500,000 from a bankrupt telecommunications company. A lower court had tossed the libel suit saying there was proof of actual malice, a requirement for a public figure to successfully sue for libel.

Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote in that “because the trustee’s complaint was filed in the bankruptcy court the day prior to the first of these articles, and was not subject to any sort of judicial review by the time the articles were published, we must conclude that the fair report privilege does not apply and defendants were not relieved of liability for republishing the alleged defamatory
statements contained within the bankruptcy complaint on that basis.”

It is only news in New Jersey when some judge puts his royal stamp of imprimatur on it.

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