Dorothy Sucher, 77

Dorothy Sucher dies at 77; wrote story that was test case for freedom of press

Dorothy Sucher worked as a psychotherapist, a fiction writer and a journalist.
Dorothy Sucher worked as a psychotherapist, a fiction writer and a journalist. (Family Photo)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Megan Buerger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dorothy Sucher, 77, a retired psychotherapist, fiction writer and journalist whose 1965 news story about a Greenbelt City Council meeting became a test case for freedom of the press that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, died Aug. 22 at her home in Silver Spring. She had thyroid cancer.

Mrs. Sucher's reporting career began in 1959 when she became a volunteer columnist for the Greenbelt News Review, a nonprofit weekly newspaper. For the next 44 years, Mrs. Sucher was associated with the News Review as a writer, associate editor and editor in chief.

In 1965, she wrote about a Greenbelt City Council meeting during which several residents complained about the actions of Charles S. Bresler, a prominent real estate developer and state delegate.

Bresler (R-Montgomery) owned several tracts of land in Greenbelt, including one that the city wanted to purchase for a high school. He refused the city's price but made it clear that he would reconsider if the city agreed to zoning variances on two of his other undeveloped properties.

Several residents at the council meeting called Bresler's actions "blackmail." Mrs. Sucher quoted them in her article, and Bresler sued the News Review for libel in 1966. He received a $17,500 libel judgment in Prince George's County Circuit Court, which was upheld by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

In 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in favor of the News Review, overturning the lower court's judgment and making Mrs. Sucher's story a staple case in freedom of the press judgments. The ruling established that reporters cannot be held liable for reporting exaggerated statements about public figures when it is clear that those statements are "rhetorical hyperbole."

The high court held that the newspaper could not be penalized for performing its "wholly legitimate function" of providing an accurate and complete description of the public meeting. To rule otherwise "would subvert the most fundamental meaning of the free press."

Dorothy Glassman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in English in 1954. She received her master's degree in mental health from Johns Hopkins University in 1975 and became a certified psychotherapist.

As a psychotherapist, she practiced in Washington with the Group Health Association from 1975 to 1980 and subsequently operated a private practice in Greenbelt for seven years.

Later she turned to full-time fiction writing. She wrote three books: two mysteries, "Dead Men Don't Give Seminars" (1988) and "Dead Men Don't Marry" (1989), and a collection of personal essays, "The Invisible Garden" (1999).

Her short stories and articles were published in periodicals such as The Washington Post Magazine, Vermont Life and Mystery Readers Journal. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mrs. Sucher taught mystery and fiction writing at Duke University, Georgetown University and the Writer's Center in Bethesda.

Mrs. Sucher was active in the women's movement in the 1970s. In the late 1970s, she established and led the Consciousness Raising Program of the Northern Prince George's County Chapter of the National Organization for Women. She expanded that program to other counties, and she and her husband, a retired physics professor at the University of Maryland, served jointly as delegates to the NOW State Council.

In the late 1980s, Mrs. Sucher served four years as treasurer of Sisters in Crime, an international organization that strives to gain recognition for female mystery writers. She founded the group's Chesapeake chapter.

Survivors include her husband of 58 years, Joseph Sucher of Silver Spring; two sons, Gabriel Sucher of Rockville and Anatol Sucher of San Francisco; and one granddaughter.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company