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Archive for Friday, February 14, 2003

AG backs change in libel law

Kline says he supports repeal of criminal defamation statute

February 14, 2003

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— Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said Thursday he supported repeal of the state's criminal defamation law.

The law, one of the few of its kind in the nation, makes it illegal to knowingly publish false information. A conviction carries a fine of $2,500 and up to a year in jail.

Last year in Wyandotte County, publisher David Carson and editor Edward H. Powers Jr. each were convicted on seven counts of libel for incorrectly reporting in their New Observer tabloid that Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Carol Marinovich lived in neighboring Johnson County. They are appealing.

Typically, people who believe they have been libeled file civil lawsuits to recover damages. Critics of the criminal defamation law contend it mirrors laws in repressive nations and inhibits free speech.

A bill to repeal the law hasn't come to a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee because some members worry that the law represents the only remedy for people who can't afford to hire their own attorneys when libeled.

But Kline said Thursday, "I don't want to chill public discussion."

Kline was asked about the defamation law during a session with reporters and editors during the annual Day at the Legislature, sponsored by The Associated Press and The Kansas Press Assn.

"I would repeal it," he said.

Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, chief sponsor of the repeal bill, said he hoped to amend its contents into another measure during Senate debate next week.

"I'm delighted to have the attorney general's support," Schmidt said.

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