Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton

PETITIONER: Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Daniel Connaughton
LOCATION: Hamilton, Ohio

DOCKET NO.: 88-10
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 657 (1989)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1989

ADVOCATES:
John A. Lloyd, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
Lee Levine - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Daniel Connaughton ran against the incumbent for the office of Municipal Judge of Hamilton, Ohio, in an election set for November 8, 1983. About a month before the election, the incumbent’s Director of Court Services resigned and was arrested on bribery charges. On November 1, 1983, the Journal News, a local newspaper owned by Harte-Hanks Communications, published a front-page story about the grand jury investigation. The story quoted a grand jury witness who accused Connaughton of using “dirty tricks” and offering her bribes in exchange for her assistance with the investigation. The Journal News also endorsed the incumbent Municipal Judge.

Connaughton sued Harte-Hanks Communications and alleged that the article was false, that it damaged his professional reputation, and that it was published maliciously. The district court ruled in favor of Connaughton, and that United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Daniel Connaughton ran against the incumbent for the office of Municipal Judge of Hamilton, Ohio, in an election set for November 8, 1983. About a month before the election, the incumbent’s Director of Court Services resigned and was arrested on bribery charges. On November 1, 1983, the Journal News, a local newspaper owned by Harte-Hanks Communications, published a front-page story about the grand jury investigation. The story quoted a grand jury witness who accused Connaughton of using “dirty tricks” and offering her bribes in exchange for her assistance with the investigation. The Journal News also endorsed the incumbent Municipal Judge.

Connaughton sued Harte-Hanks Communications and alleged that the article was false, that it damaged his professional reputation, and that it was published maliciously. The district court ruled in favor of Connaughton, and that United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

 

Question

Did the newspaper’s reporting of the scandal exhibit “actual malice”?

Media for Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1989 in Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 88-10, Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton.

Mr. Levine, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Lee Levine:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Twenty-five years ago this month in New York Times v. Sullivan this Court articulated the central meaning of the First Amendment.

It held that if freedom of speech and freedom of the press mean anything in a democracy, it is that criticism of public officials and candidates for public office must be free.

In this case, a $200,000 judgment has been entered against a newspaper because it published statements critical of a candidate for public office in the midst of a hotly-contested election campaign.

We submit that this judgment, that the court of appeals decision affirming a jury's finding that this speech is unworthy of constitutional protection can be affirmed only ignoring the three fundamental safeguards of political speech articulated in New York Times.

First, that only expression published with actual malice... that is, despite a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity... is beyond the scope of Constitutional protection.

William H. Rehnquist:

Did the Sixth Circuit here say there was actual malice?

Lee Levine:

It held that a jury could have found actual malice.

William H. Rehnquist:

And you disagree with that?

Lee Levine:

We disagree with both the contention that its standard of review was limited to what the jury could have found and with the conclusion that the evidence revealed... that the evidence in the record reveals actual malice.

The second requirement of New York Times is the proof--

Antonin Scalia:

Excuse me.

Didn't they go further than just saying the jury could have found actual malice?

I thought they found that the jury could have found certain facts, and if the jury found those facts, then there was actual malice.

Didn't they make that judgment themselves, that if these facts existed, there was in their own view actual malice?

Lee Levine:

--Justice Scalia, they added--

Antonin Scalia:

That's how I understood it, anyway.

Lee Levine:

--Justice Scalia, they added another step in there.

After they found the facts, they drew all conceivable inferences--

Antonin Scalia:

Right.

Lee Levine:

--from those facts--

Antonin Scalia:

Right.

Lee Levine:

--in favor of the jury's verdict.

Antonin Scalia:

But then taking all those facts and the favorable inferences, they made their own judgment, given those facts and inferences, that there was actual malice didn't they?

Lee Levine:

That is correct.

And that is... that is in fact the guts of this case, the third point, the third safeguard of free expression identified in New York Times.

That is the obligation of appellate courts to undertake a review of the entire record, not simply the evidence favoring the defendant... or, the plaintiff, and make an independent judgment, drawing its own inferences from the record evidence.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Levine, the problem I have in applying this standard is what should the Court do where credibility of witnesses is crucial?