Chron wins SCOTex libel case

by   |  03.22.05  |  Current Events, Libel

Three Smith County prosecutors failed to show actual malice in a case over a June 2000 story in the Houston Chronicle. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The defamation suit was brought against the Chronicle after reporter Evan Moore, in an article headlined “Justice Under Fire,” criticized three Smith County prosecutors including District Attorney Jack Skeen. The article, which was accompanied by a series of three articles about specific cases, reported: “Critics say Smith County’s justice system is tainted and inequitable,” and that prosecutors “have been accused of serious infractions” including “suppressing evidence, encouraging perjury and practicing selective prosecution,” according to the March 11 ruling.

Skeen and his fellow prosecutors sued Moore and Hearst, owner of the Chron, for defamation and the trail court found in their favor. A state court of appeals upheld the decision.

According to the Texas Supreme Court, to “establish actual malice, [Skeen] must prove Hearst and Moore published the article with either knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. An understandable misinterpretation of ambiguous facts does not show actual malice.”

“Moore had many sources corroborating the criticisms of the Smith County D.A.’s office,” said the ruling. According to the court, a “failure to investigate fully is not evidence of actual malice.”

Houston attorney Bill Ogden represented the Chron in the case.