Thursday, February 18, 2010

Newspaper Ad Absolving Mayor Part of Libel Claim Settlement

keller texas night sceneImage by memorycardfull via Flickr
Since the seminal U.S. Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710 (1964), it's been a tough row to hoe for public officials involved in libel suits.  To prevail on a defamation claim, the public official has the burden of proving that the allegedly defamatory statements concerning him or her not only are false and harmed his or her reputation, but also that the statements were made with actual malice, that is, with knowledge that the statements were false or with reckless disregard of whether the statements were false.

But, according to a report in The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, that didn't stop former Keller (Tex.) Mayor Julie Tandy from hammering out a favorable, if unusal, settlement of her defamation claim against Keller resident Jack Brock. Besides forking over $50,000 to make Tandy "whole" from the damage she purportedly sustained from the allegedly libelous statements, Brock also has to dole out $900 for an ad in The Keller Citizen retracting the allegedly defamatory statements that appeared in an ad he ran in the Citizen May 4, 2007, eight days before the election in which incumbent Mayor Tandy was defeated.

Brock, who was embroiled in a condemnation proceeding dispute with the city concerning the acquisition of a drainage easement on property he owned, paid for an ad in The Keller Citizen in May 2007, that accused Tandy of engaging in fraudulent conduct by allegedly backdating her signature on certain documents and of voting to "steal" his property.  Consequently, the ad running in the Citizen pursuant to the parties' resolution of the suit specifically retracts the signature backdating charge, acknowledges that Tandy didn't even cast a vote in the matter at issue, and says that Tandy, in his view, did not engage in criminal conduct as Mayor.

The outcome is a favorable one for the ex-Mayor and also for The Keller Citizen, which winds up with revenues from two paid ads in the controversy, no small feat in these ad-hungry times for newspapers.

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