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U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Libel Suit Against The Times

March 21, 1989|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court Monday dismissed a libel suit against The Times growing out of the 1984 court-martial of a Navy commander.

The commander, Willard G. Chrisman, was court-martialed after his ship ran aground off Hawaii. At the military proceeding, he was acquitted of charges of drunkenness but was found to have been negligent in the operation of his ship.

Chrisman filed a suit against the Times Mirror Co., which publishes The Times, contending that he was libeled and that his reputation was ruined by seven articles reporting the allegations against him and the proceedings at the court-martial.

A state appellate court in San Diego dismissed the suit last May on the grounds that California law protects news organizations from being sued for fair and accurate reporting. "Our review of the transcripts day by day (during the court-martial) and comparison with the corresponding Times' articles shows the articles are true and fair as a matter of law," the appeal court concluded. "The prosecution version of the facts, the defense version of the facts and the decision are all reported."

In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Chrisman contended that the articles were published with "actual malice." The appeal (Chrisman vs. Times Mirror Co., 88-844) was denied without comment.

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