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Compton Councilman Sues Weekly Paper for Libel

December 03, 1987|TERRY SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — City Councilman Maxcy D. Filer has filed a libel suit against a weekly newspaper and its publisher for unspecified damages, alleging the paper falsely linked him to a rival publisher who is under indictment.

In an article on the opinion page of the Oct. 28 Compton Bulletin, O. Ray Watkins wrote that Filer "fought tooth and nail to get a city legals contract for Hillard Hamm's newspaper," the Metropolitan-Gazette. Watkins said that Filer "may have known" at that time that publisher Hamm was about to be indicted for embezzlement.

In September, Filer objected to a successful City Council motion to grant the Bulletin exclusive rights to publish the city's legal notices. Until that time, the right to publish legal notices was shared by the Bulletin, the Metropolitan-Gazette and the Herald American. Those notices are often a small newspaper's main source of income.

Filer's attorney and son Kelvin Filer, who is also a member of the Compton school board, said such a comment about his father crosses the line of fair criticism of a public official protected by law.

"Watkins has crossed over the line by telling an outright lie," Kelvin Filer said.

Watkins' attorney, Tom Patterson, disagreed, saying that his client was within legal bounds.

"I wrote (Kelvin) Filer and told him that because his father is a city councilman, he is open to a little more scrutiny than the average citizen," Patterson said.

Maxcy Filer is asking the court to grant him both general and punitive damages.

Watkins and Maxcy Filer, who was once a Bulletin columnist, have been involved in a public feud for some time. Maxcy Filer has been a frequent critic of the Bulletin and its parent company, Rapid Publishing, which have been granted almost all of the city's publishing and printing contracts over the last three years.

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