The Supreme Court yesterday let stand an award of $100,000 in punitive libel damages won by a Florida official against a Brevard County newspaper and two staff members.
The court declined to review a jury decision ordering Cape Publications, Inc., a unit of the Gannett newspaper chain, and the staff members to pay the $100,000 in punitive damages and $114,000 in compensatory damages to Donald F. Adams, whose title is building official of Indian River County. The staff members were Duke Newcome, former Vero Beach, Fla. bureau chief of the newspaper Today, and Buddy Baker, its managing editor.
Adams claimed he had been libeled by two Today articles essentially charging him with having solicited a $1,000 bribe and having tried to induce the mayor of Indian River Shores to pay in excess of $2,000 for work for which Adams already had been paid.
The case involved a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that a public official cannot collect damages for a defamatory fatsehood "unless he proves that the statement was made with 'actual malice' - that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."
A Florida appellate court held 3 to 0 that "the proof of actual malice was more than adequate" and that the defendants had "exhibited a reckless disregard of whether the charges were true or flase."
The American Newspaper Publishers Association contended that the Constitution precludes a libel award of punitive damage to a public official or a "public figure."
In a friend-of-the-court brief, the ANPA told the Supreme Court that the appellate court had not corrected "multitudinous errors and misinterpretations committed at the trial" of a public official "publicly identified both by the mayor's office and by individual contractors as a grafter."
But the association's larger concern was that "the threat of the excessive punitive damage awards" to public officials and public figures "continues to have an inhibitory effect on the press which affects its ability to provide the public with full and complete information concerning matters of public interest."
In a 1974 decision, the Supreme Court held that the state's interest in compensating private persons "extends no further than compensation for actual injury."
Citing that decision, the ANPA said that a state's interest in protecting the privacy of public officials and figures with punitive damages must yield to the public's need - asserted by the court in the 1964 ruling - for "uninhibited, robust and wide-open" debate on public issues.
The court took other actions: Access to U.S. Courts
A state prisoner claiming to have been convicted with evidence obtained in a search violating the Fourth Amendment is entitled to full and fair litigation in state courts. But if there has been such litigation, the court ruled last year, he cannot seek relief in federal courts.
Yesterday, the court turned back, without comment, a plea by Ohio officials to clarify whether the limitation on federal relief applies to a state prisoner who has litigated in state courts a claim that his Sixth Amendment rights were denied by detectives who interrogated him after he had refused to waive his right to counsel.
"The interrogation led to the conviction of Timothy Papp for the rape and murder of 9-year-old Roxie Ann Kathley in Lorain, Ohio, in 1973. He got three concurrent life sentences. Federal courts said he must be re-tried. YUGOSLAV LAW/U.S. JUSTICE
In 1941, Nazi oficials in Yugoslavia expropriated in Jewish-owned property and enterprises, including Hayim Kalmich's textile importing business in Belgrade. in 1942, Karl Bruno, a Yugoslav employee of the Nazis, bought the business for about $13,000 although he had told them it was worth $20,000. Then he sold it at a profit.
Bruno fled Yugoslavia before the defeat of the occupiers. After the war, Kalmich searched for him in five European countries. In 1972 he found Bruno living in Chicago.
Yesterday, the court let stand a ruling of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal says Bruno owes Kalmich $1.8 million in actual damages. The appeals court relied [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] precedent, relied not on the five-year [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] of limitations, but on a Yugoslavia [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] cases such as this, is perpetual.