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Court Rejects Wayne Newton's Libel Lawsuit Against NBC

October 08, 1991|PAUL FELDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U. S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected singer Wayne Newton's request that it review a federal appeals court ruling that overturned a $5.2-million libel damage award against NBC News.

The court, without comment, let stand the 1990 appellate court decision that said Newton had failed to prove that a series of NBC newscasts linking him to organized crime figures was deliberately false or reckless.

Newton had sued the network over a series of 1980 and 1981 reports that focused on the singer's relationship with Guido Penosi, identified as a Mafia figure under investigation in Las Vegas. The broadcasts also said that federal authorities were looking into Newton's purchase of the Aladdin hotel and casino, in which Frank Piccolo, another reputed mob figure, had become a hidden partner.

In 1986, a federal jury in Las Vegas issued a $19.3-million verdict against NBC, ruling that the network had defamed Newton. A district judged reduced the amount to $5.2-million, but the entire judgement was thrown out last year by the U. S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Newtwon failed to provide "clear and convincing" evidence that NBC purposely or recklessly lied.

Public officials and public figures must prove they are the victims of deliberate lies or recklessness in order to prove malice and win libel suits.

In a statement, NBC News President Michael Gartner termed the court's action "a sound victory for investigative journalism. It's unfortunate that it took the time and resources of 10 years of litigation."

NBC general counsel Richard Cotton said the cost of legal bills for the network "was in the millions."

Lawyers and managers for Newton did not return calls for comment.

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