Judge dismisses libel suit against reporter

CALIFORNIA — A superior court judge dismissed a police\nofficer’s libel suit against a student reporter in October based\non a California statute designed to prevent lawsuits aimed at\nintimidating public speech.

James Wagstaffe, the student’s attorney, said this case was\nthe first known use of California’s Anti-SLAPP statute on behalf\nof a student journalist. The law was created to prevent “Strategic\nLawsuits Against Public Participation.”

In 1997, Ingrid Perez, a reporter for San Jose State University’s\nDaily Spartan, wrote an article about a fellow reporter’s\ncomplaint to the San Jose police department that Sgt. David Hewitt\nhad physically assaulted her at the scene of a car accident she\nwas covering.

The reporter who filed the complaint later recanted the charges,\nand Hewitt and his wife brought a libel suit against Perez for\nreporting the alleged assault.

In dismissing the Hewitts’ complaint, Judge William J. Elfving\nruled that there was no probability that the Hewitts would prevail\non any of their claims because the statements Perez made in her\narticle about the assault were “absolutely privileged.”\nBecause Perez was reporting on a report made to a public agency,\nthe police department, she could not be held responsible for any\nuntrue information contained in that report.

“Basically, the court held that freedom of speech and\nof the press protects what Ingrid Perez reported,” Wagstaffe\nsaid in a press release. “The court’s decision reaffirms\nthat the Anti-SLAPP statute is a powerful tool to enforce these\nfreedoms and to shield journalists from tactical lawsuits which\nwould effectively repeal the First Amendment by means of intimidation”