BOSTON -- Overturning a lower court ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Court yesterday granted former governor Edward J. King a jury trial of a libel charge brought against The Boston Globe for one of several editorial columns and cartoons.
King, the state's Democratic governor from 1979 to 1982, filed suit five years ago against the newspaper, cartoonist Paul Szep and columnists Robert Turner and David Farrell, claiming that three cartoons and four columns libeled him and weakened his ability to govern.
The newspaper argued that each of the items was true or a constitutionally protected form of opinion.
Superior Court Judge James P. Lynch Jr. granted summary judgment for The Globe last year on grounds that King had failed to present any issues that deserved to be heard by a jury in his $1.6 million libel case.
In a 5-to-0 decision, the high court upheld most of Lynch's ruling. But it overturned his decision on a column by Farrell, which alleged that in October 1981, King had "called a judge and demanded that he change a decision he had rendered in a gang-rape case."
The high court said Farrell testified that state Treasurer Robert Crane was Farrell's only source for the allegation and that Crane had the information "secondhand." The justices concluded that "Farrell had obvious reasons to doubt the veracity and accuracy . . . of Crane's undisclosed informant and any other informant in the chain of communication."
To be libelous, a defamatory statement of fact about a public official must be made with malice, Lynch's opinion noted.