CONSTITUTIONAL LAW II DIGESTS (2012 – 2013)
ATTY. SEDFREY CANDELARIA
GERTZ v. ROBERT WELCH, INC., 418 U.S. 323 (June 25, 1974)
PETITIONER: Atty. Elmer Gertz
RESPONDENT: Robert Welch Inc. (John Birch Society)
SUMMARY: Robert Welch Inc, published an article that said Atty. Gertz
framed a policeman in an earlier murder case which led to the
policeman’s conviction, and that Gertz is a long-standing member of a
Communist Front. Gertz sued for libel but the district court entered
judgement in favour of respondent notwithstanding verdict of the jury.
It argued that since the article is of public interest, respondent cannot
be held guilty for libel because Gertz failed to show actual malice on
their part. This was affirmed by the CA but the US Supreme Court ruled
that Gertz is neither a public official nor a public figure, but a private
individual, so the NY Times v Sullivan standard is inapplicable. They held
that the First Amendment permits states to formulate their own
standards for defamatory statements made about private individuals, as
long as a “strict liability,” or liability without fault, is not imposed.
In 1968, Richard Nuccio, a Chicago police officer, shot and killed
a young man named Nelson. He was charged with second
degree murder and was later convicted; thereafter, the victim’s
family retained Gertz as their lawyer to represent them in civil
litigation for damages.
March 1969, an article titled "FRAME-UP: Richard Nuccio And
The War On Police" was ran by the respondent in their
magazine “American Opinion” (a monthly outlet for the views of
the John Birch Society), which alleged that Nuccio's murder trial
was part of a Communist conspiracy to discredit the local police.
It falsely stated that petitioner had arranged Nuccio's "frameup," and implied that petitioner had a criminal record, and
labeled him a "Leninist" and a "Communist-fronter;" this
notwithstanding the fact that petitioner had played no...