A federal jury yesterday rejected an Alexandria physician's claim that a Chinese-language newspaper had libeled him. The newspaper had attacked him for his activities in support of the government of Taiwan.
The verdict was hailed as a victory for the American jury system by former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, who helped defend the New York-based Taiwan Tribune. Clark criticized such lawsuits as allowing "the rich and powerful to hurt the weak and the poor."
Tzu-min Kao, who had sued the Taiwan Tribune for $1.98 million, said he was disappointed but thought that "it's a good lesson for writers to pay attention to what they write."
The verdict, reached after more than eight hours of deliberation, came in a five-day trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
The proceedings were watched closely not only by those interested in libel law, but by observers of the politically active Taiwanese communities in this country, which are divided between those who support and those who criticize their homeland's government.
Kao, a native Taiwanese who heads the physical therapy department at Jefferson Memorial Hospital, had claimed that the paper libeled him by printing false information about him and by calling him a "four-legged Taiwanese animal."
The Taiwan Tribune argued in court that the correct translation of their published words was "four-legged" Taiwanese, a colloquialism used to refer to a collaborator. One language expert testifying for the paper said the term is similar to the English word "quisling."
The Tribune is a twice-weekly paper published by critics of the Taiwanese government.
U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. instructed the seven jurors to determine "by a preponderance of the evidence" whether the paper's statements about Kao were true or false and whether they were defamatory. While the jury members found that the statements were not false, they said they were defamatory.