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Monday, June 21, 2004
 

Importance of Olympic Bombing Ruling: Law.com has an interesting article on the ramifications of a state court ruling in the Richard Jewell case. As a reminder, Jewell sued the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for libel following the accusation that he was the Olympic bomber at the 1996 Games.

Earlier this month, the court ruled that Jewell could not obtain the identity of the paper's anonymous sources, seriously impeding the path of the former security guard's lawsuit. The ruling prevents a difficult decision for the paper:

    Mather's ruling on sources provided the first part of a double-barreled victory for the Journal-Constitution, which, like most news media, guards the identities of confidential sources who give information that might not otherwise see the light of day.

    As a result of Mather's ruling, not only are the newspaper's sources safe from discovery, but the Journal-Constitution also has sidestepped the difficult decision it would face if Jewell were to prevail -- reveal the names of sources whose identities its reporters had promised to shield, or face contempt of court. A contempt finding, which normally would remain in effect until the Journal-Constitution capitulated, could have resulted in hefty fines or the jailing of newspaper staff. Jewell's attorney also would have been able to argue to a jury that the Journal-Constitution had refused to produce reporters' sources because they either didn't exist or wouldn't verify the allegedly defamatory statements.

The article also suggests that the decision could have an impact beyond just the Jewell case:

    A huge victory for the Journal-Constitution, the ruling had other implications. The judge may have undermined Georgia's "fair report privilege," the principle that newspapers are protected from libel when they faithfully report information that comes from government sources, even if it's false.

    [Jewell's attorney] also suggested that the ruling was a "gift" to defense lawyers for Eric Robert Rudolph, the man who authorities now believe planted the Olympic Park bomb and three others in Atlanta and Birmingham. That's because the judge's ruling supported the existence of an FBI profile of a "hero" bomber who planted the bomb so that he could rescue people. That profile clearly doesn't fit Rudolph, who never tried to rescue anyone and spent years hiding from authorities.

The entire article is worth a read.





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