A state appeals court has ruled that a newspaper can be sued for libel for reporting allegations from a lawsuit before any court proceedings have taken place.
The ruling reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed a libel claim against The Record of Bergen County brought by Thomas John Salzano, who alleged the newspaper defamed him in 2006 by reporting a federal bankruptcy court complaint that he misappropriated money from a Newark telecommunications company.
The court said The Record was not privileged to “republish alleged defamatory statements within a bankruptcy court complaint” and that the newspaper did not demonstrate the allegations were true or non-defamatory.
Salzano, who was chief managing officer of the company, represented himself in the appeal. He praised the ruling for “ensuring integrity in reporting while protecting private citizens” from false allegations.
Media lawyers argue the decision is a restriction on the “fair report privilege” that allows newspapers to report allegations made in court documents. Jennifer Borg, a lawyer for the newspaper, said the decision would have a “chilling effect” on a newspaper’s ability to gather news, and plans to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Thomas Cafferty, a lawyer representing the New Jersey Press Association, said that organization will join in the appeal.