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Archive for Thursday, January 23, 2003

Supporters defend defamation law

January 23, 2003

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— The state's criminal defamation law allows people to defend their reputations, a prosecutor who filed and won such a case last year told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Wyandotte County Dist. Atty. Nick Tomasic, testifying against a bill to repeal the law, said the statute provided a recourse for people who believe they have been libeled but cannot afford to file civil lawsuits.

Tomasic's testimony came in the second day of a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard Tuesday from proponents of abolishing the rarely used statute.

People who believe they have been libeled typically file civil lawsuits for monetary damages. The criminal defamation law allows prosecutions for knowingly spreading false information about someone, and convictions can bring a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

"Malice is acting with an evil mind. If you tell the truth, you're not going to get into any trouble," Tomasic said.

Tomasic successfully prosecuted a newspaper editor and publisher in July on charges of defaming Wyandotte County Mayor Carol Marinovich. Their convictions were the first in the nation since 1974, and few states have criminal defamation laws.

Publisher David Carson and editor Edward H. Powers Jr., whose free tabloid The New Observer is published occasionally, were charged after incorrectly reporting that Marinovich lived in neighboring Johnson County.

The two men are appealing their convictions on seven counts of misdemeanor libel.

Their convictions led Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, to introduce a bill to repeal the law. He told the committee Tuesday that countries with poor human rights records such as Panama, China and Zimbabwe have criminal defamation laws.

But opponents of Schmidt's bill, like Topeka attorney Jerry Palmer, argued that people can take out insurance against damage to their cars but they cannot do so with their reputations.

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