Originally created 02/04/03

Verdict favoring paper is reversed



AIKEN - The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed a libel verdict favoring The Augusta Chronicle on Monday, sending the case back to a lower court.

The action stemmed from a 1999 suit filed by former Democratic state House candidate Tom Anderson. Mr. Anderson, who ran for House District 84 in 1996 and again in 1997, said that a Chronicle reporter erroneously reported that he served in the National Guard.

That article and a subsequent article about Mr. Anderson's possible exit from the 1997 race led to an editorial stating that Mr. Anderson had lied about serving in the National Guard.

The trial court ordered a directed verdict before the case was sent to a jury, stating that Mr. Anderson had not proved actual malice - publishing material known to be false with reckless disregard for the truth.

The Appeals Court, in a 2-1 vote, wrote that Mr. Anderson's effort to prove he did not serve in the National Guard was substantial because it occurred before the editorial appeared.

At The Chronicle's request, Mr. Anderson faxed the newspaper documents revealing that he worked on insurance claims in North Carolina for the National Flood Insurance Program. About a week later, the editorial appeared.

The court wrote that the request by the newspaper supported the notion that it began to doubt its original report. Such doubt creates a reasonable question for a jury on the elements of actual malice in the subsequent editorial, the court wrote.

An attorney for The Chronicle disagreed with Monday's ruling.

"The Court of Appeals decision was by the narrowest of margins: 2-1," David Hudson said. "As the next step, we will apply for rehearing before the full court of nine members.

"If necessary, we will then seek review from the South Carolina Supreme Court, whose decisions indicate that a claim of the type made by Mr. Anderson cannot prevail under that court's interpretation of the Constitution."

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or matthew.boedy@augustachronicle.com.