Court dismisses defamation claim against public officials
Neil Martz and others sued Evelyn Bowers arguing that she defamed them at a public meeting by describing their activities as "illegal." They maintained that it was defamation per se (sort of, "under all circumstances") to accuse someone of an illegal act, and therefore they should be entitled to a damage award without proving a specific injury. The trial judge and the Court of Appeals agreed that the plaintiffs could not pursue this claim and the plaintiffs narrowly avoided a sanction award. The Court pointed to the longstanding free speech issues involving a public official and to the fact that Bower's comments enjoyed qualified immunity as a result. A public official claiming defamation must meet a much higher standard of culpability in proving slanderous or libelous statements.