Appellate court addresses defamation claims involving public figures
In the Leelanau County case Smith v. Anonymous, et al., the appellate court was asked to overturn a jury verdict rendered on behalf of a political candidate against her opponents. Smith had demonstrated that a mailing sent to voters by the defendants inaccurately portrayed her employment history, and the jury rendered a modest defamation money award and demanded an apology.
The appellate court overturned the award, noting that a public figure cannot sustain a defamation claim unless he or she provides "clear and compelling evidence" of actual malice. In order to protect First Amendment rights of free speech and "robust" public speech, the Court held that even offensive speech is not actionable unless it meets a high threshold of negligence or falsity. The Court held that Smith's proofs did not meet this high threshold and overturned the jury verdict.