Monday, March 22, 2010

High Court: Montana Solon Absolute Privilege Against Libel Claim

Source: via Wikipedia
The Montana Supreme Court unanimously ruled that lawmakers' remarks made during a legislative session are absolutely privileged against libel claims.

The High Court's 7-0  decision in Cooper v. Glaser (Case No. DA 09-0570 92009-0570; 2010 MT 55) relied on Article V, Sec. 8 of Montana's Constitution, which states in relevant part: "[a legislator] shall not be questioned in any other place for any speech or debate in the legislature." The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision of  Judge Kathy Seeley of the Lewis & Clark County District Court of the First Judicial District.

The case was brought pro se by Robert Cooper against his neighbor, Rep. Bill Glaser (R-Huntley), whom he alleged branded Cooper a "kook" who allegedly had been institutionalized and imprisoned for threatening a military officer. Glaser's purported remarks, which did not identify Cooper by name, were made during a procedure that permits legislators to make personal comments regarding any topic during a legislative session.

In rejecting the libel claim initially brought by Cooper in July 2009, the Montana Supreme Court cited the importance of legislative immunity so as not to compromise the independence of lawmakers carrying out the will of the electorate.  The Montana High Court's embracing an absolute privilege defense against libel claims for legislators engaged in official duties has long been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court (NY Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)).

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