United States

UNITED STATES Most recent freedom of the press developments focus on the media fighting their rights in courtrooms across the country. Here are some of the main events: -A former lawyer for Chiquita sued The Cincinnati Enquirer and its parent company, accusing them of breaking a promise by identifying him as a source for the newspaper's expose of the banana company. George G. Ventura claims former Enquirer reporters Michael Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter promised him confidentiality with management's knowledge in exchange for inside information about Chiquita Brands International Inc. Ventura said the reporters violated that promise by secretly taping conversations with him and later identifying him to Chiquita and law enforcement authorities.Ventura is seeking unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. -In July, the Supreme Court ruled that the need to protect grand jury secrecy and witness testimony outweighs the public's right to know more details of Orange County's $1.64 billion bankruptcy. In a unanimous ruling, which overturned an appeals court decision to release grand jury transcripts, the seven justices said that although the release may shed light on the role of a brokerage firm in the largest municipal insolvency in U.S. history, it would forever alter the grand jury process. "Whenever the media, or any member of the public, requested disclosure in a matter of public interest, the court would have authority to pierce the veil of grand jury secrecy based on a simple balancing test," the ruling said. -On July 27, the California Supreme Court ruled that a judge was wrong to exclude the media and public from parts of a trial over a lawsuit filed against actor Clint Eastwood. In a unanimous decision, the court said the judge can close part of the civil trial only after holding a special hearing and finding there is an "overriding interest" supporting closure. While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that criminal trials must be open to the public and the media, the courts have not affirmed a similar constitutional right in civil proceedings. -A judge will decide whether Richard Jewell was a public figure when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified him as a suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing three years ago. Jewell has sued the newspaper for libel. If Jewell could be considered a public figure, he faces a higher standard in proving the newspaper libeled him. Jewell, who eventually was cleared by the Justice Department, says stories portrayed him as a strange person probably guilty of causing the explOSion, which killed one person. -An appeals court dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Jack Kevorkian against two medical groups that called him a "killer" in their literature. Such lawsuits should be dismissed in cases "where an allegedly libelous statement cannot realistically cause impairment of reputation because the person's reputation is already so low," the court said. Kevorkian is serving a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder and drug delivery in the lethal injection of Thomas Youk, 52, a Lou Gehrig's disease patient. Kevorkian, 71, says he has attended more than 130 suicides. - Former 0.]. Simpson house guest Brian "Kato" Kaelin won another battle in federal court in his $15 million lawsuit against a tabloid over a headline that said "Cops Think Kato Did It!" U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian Jr. on August 23 rejected an argument by attorneys for the National Examiner and its publisher, Globe Communications Corp., that the headline was not malicious because it was screened and approved by the company's lawyers. Kaelin was Simpson's house guest when Simpson's former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were killed in front of her condominium on June 12, 1994. Kaelin testified about hearing thumps on the wall the night of the slayings. -Wisconsin paid more than $32,000 to reimburse the legal fees of three newspapers that successfully sued to gain access to the billing records of private law firms that represented the state in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, The Capital Times of Madison and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sued the state in May to obtain the records. -A federal appeals court reversed itself and ruled that journalists are protected from revealing unused material from non-confidential sources, except in special instances. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said journalists can block disclosure of non-confidential materials, unless it can be proven that they cannot be reasonably obtained from other sources. The August 27 ruling stems from a case in which unbroadcast Videotape for a segment on NBC's "Dateline" was subpoenaed.