Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ohio weekly wins lawsuit by coal mogul Robert E. Murray; court cites First Amendment rights

Controversial coal mogul Robert E. Murray knows how to make headlines, often traveling coal regions to give speeches criticizing President Obama and his "War on Coal." Murray also has a reputation for suing any news organization that publishes anything unflattering about him. This time Murray, who this year expects to mine 64 million tons of coal, worth about $3.6 billion, took on a small weekly newspaper and lost.

Robert Murray
Murray last week lost his two-year battle against the Chagrin Valley Times when an Ohio court ruled in favor of the newspaper, Jonathan Peters reports for Columbia Journalism Review. Murray sued the Review for false light and defamation after the paper published a column criticizing Murray and a cartoon ridiculing him, in response to the December 2012 protest by Patriots for Change over Robert Murray’s decision to fire 156 employees after the presidential election.

"A trial court in Cuyahoga County granted summary judgment for the paper and the Patriots organization in May 2014," Peters writes. Murray appealed, and last week the Ohio Court of Appeals "affirmed the lower court based on First Amendment principles. Finding that Robert and his companies 'are public figures subject to comment and discussion,' the court held that the Dec. 20 article 'did not recklessly or knowingly publish a false statement of fact,' the editor’s column was not published with 'actual malice,' and the cartoon did not contain 'an injuriously false factual assertion made with actual malice.' Thus, each was a protected form of speech."

The court's decision said: "This case illustrates the need for Ohio to join the majority of states in this country that have enacted statutes that provide for quick relief from suits aimed at chilling protected speech. . . . The fact that the Chagrin Valley Times website has been scrubbed of all mention of Murray or this protest is an example of the chilling effects this has. . . . Given Ohio’s particularly strong desire to protect individual speech, as embodied in its Constitution, Ohio should adopt an anti-SLAPP statute to discourage punitive litigation designed to chill constitutionally protected speech."

No comments: