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The collision between a newspaper’s efforts to cover a sensational crime and a citizen’s fight to restore his reputation played out in arguments Thursday before the Georgia Court of Appeals. As a 30-minute clock ticked down for each side, lawyers for Richard Jewell and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution made their cases before a full courtroom that included Jewell, his mother, AJC Executive Editor John Walter and Ron Martz, one of the reporters who is a defendant in the case. The panel consisted of Presiding Judge Edward H. Johnson and Judges John H. Ruffin and John J. Ellington. Lawyers for both sides argued that First Amendment rights were at stake. The newspaper said it used its First Amendment right simply to report the truth — that authorities considered Jewell a suspect in the 1996 bombing in Centennial Olympic Park. Attorney L. Lin Wood Jr., who has ridden the Jewell case to national fame, had his own view of the First Amendment. He argued that Jewell’s decision to speak to the press after the bombing shouldn’t make him a public figure. Making an ordinary citizen a public figure merely because he spoke to the press would have a chilling effect on the individual’s right to free speech, Wood argued. Jewell, once suspected and later exonerated of involvement in the early morning blast that was linked to two deaths and injured more than 100, sued the AJC, claiming the paper’s coverage defamed him. While the FBI has acknowledged that Jewell was at one time a suspect in the bombing, Jewell claims that the newspaper botched its reporting of the investigation. LIKENED TO CHILD KILLER? Specifically, he claims the AJC libeled him by comparing him to child-murderer Wayne Williams, portraying him as likely to be guilty, stating that he fit the profile of the bomber, and reporting that he had a checkered work history and aberrant personality. Filed in January 1997, the case record has grown to more than 26,000 pages and is nowhere near trial. Three key issues were before the appellate court Wednesday: � The newspaper is appealing Fulton State Judge John R. Mather’s order holding AJC reporters Martz and Kathy Scruggs in contempt for refusing to reveal their confidential sources that named Jewell a suspect. Mather earlier ordered them jailed, but they have remained free pending the appeal. � Wood is appealing Mather’s ruling that Jewell is a voluntary, limited-purpose public figure who thrust himself into the controversy over park safety. If the ruling stands, Jewell would have to prove that the paper acted with malice, a tall hurdle in a libel action. To meet the definition of a limited-purpose public figure, individuals must have thrust themselves into the vortex of a matter of public controversy and must have done so in order to influence that controversy. � The newspaper also is appealing Mather’s failure to rule on dispositive motions prior to discovery. The judge should have determined first whether Jewell’s claims had merit, Canfield said. That would have made the identity of sources irrelevant and therefore made the contempt order unnecessary, Canfield said. That’s because the paper ran “a plainly accurate report that Jewell was the focus [of the bombing investigation] and how he had become the focus,” Canfield told the panel. �FAIRNESS’ NOT A STANDARD Unable to prove defamation, Jewell wants to convince the court “that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports and method of reporting were unfair,” Canfield argued. But fairness, he insisted, was not the standard or the issue in the case. “Courts and juries are not arbiters of journalistic fairness.” Wood, who called his client “a hero who was falsely accused,” said Mather was wrong in deciding that Jewell was a public figure by virtue of press interviews the security guard gave in the days after the bombing. Jewell only told the media what he had seen and done the night of the bombing, Wood said, and that exercise of free speech shouldn’t cost him “the safe harbor of the state’s defamation laws,” that is, subject him to the rough and tumble of being a public figure. Wood told the panel, “The impact of your decision will go far beyond the battle between Richard Jewell and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.” It will impact on the willingness of private citizens to give information to the press when they are eyewitnesses or participants in newsworthy events, he said. Arguments on the three separate appeals were combined. Canfield spent 14 minutes reciting his version of the facts — the bombing, the investigation of the bombing and the AJC’s coverage. As he read his presentation, Canfield displayed news clippings and TV still shots on computer screens for the judges. FACTUAL ISSUES The AJC’s appellate briefs also focus extensively on factual issues of the paper’s coverage in an attempt to show that Jewell cannot prove defamation and that Mather should have disposed of the case early in the litigation. Instead, the briefs say, Mather chose to exercise a “pocket veto” by postponing such rulings and ordering discovery. The law protects all litigants, including reporters, from intrusive and irrelevant discovery, Canfield said. But Mather’s ruling, based on Georgia’s reporter shield law, “in effect treats reporters as second-class citizens,” he added. Georgia’s shield law provides non-party reporters a qualified privilege when called to testify, but states that it does not apply to media defendants in libel cases. If Canfield was more formal, reading a prepared text synchronized with the computer images, Wood was more animated, sprinkling his presentation with repetitive phrases and colorful rhetoric. “Before the First Amendment, there were fundamental human rights,” including the right to protect one’s own reputation, he said. And that’s what the case is about, he said. Wood said he wouldn’t respond to what he called the AJC’s “one-sided, self-serving, selective recitation of facts.” It wasn’t the time for appellate court to review the summary judgment issue, he argued, since Mather had issued no order for them to review. PUBLIC FIGURE STATUS Wood focused his arguments on his contention that Jewell shouldn’t be deemed a public figure. The AJC wants the court to penalize Richard Jewell for giving information to the press by insisting his cooperation made him a public figure, he said. If any citizen interviewed by the press could be deemed a public figure later, Wood said, citizens should be forewarned that “before you give this interview, what you say may be used against you” and that the press was free to investigate every part of that citizen’s life. If Mather’s ruling stands, he argued, the press would have “a field day to defame.” “There is a clash in this case with respect to the First Amendment,” Wood argued, and it involves the right of Jewell’s and other citizens’ to free speech. “Did Richard Jewell in that interview attempt to influence anybody about anything or did Richard Jewell provide facts?” Wood asked rhetorically after reading a two-question interview CNN conducted with the security guard. “Did Richard Jewell use the media interviews to thrust himself to the forefront of a public controversy in order to influence events?” Jewell, Wood said, answering his own question, wasn’t trying to influence anybody about anything. Ruffin asked how many interviews Jewell turned down. Many, Wood said. And weren’t the interviews done voluntarily, Ruffin asked. Yes, Wood said. But, he added, the key issue is whether Jewell voluntarily thrusted himself into the controversy over park safety. “Isn’t that a matter of semantics?” Ruffin wanted to know. Wood insisted it was not, adding that a witness to events who is interviewed is different than an advocate. If agreeing to be interviewed on events determined whether an individual is a public or private figure, Wood argued, then no one would want to be interviewed and risk losing their privacy. On the “Today Show,” he added, you’d have “Katie [Couric] talking to Matt [Lauer] because nobody else would show up. People value their reputation more than five minutes with Katie Couric.” Wood said if there were any doubt whether a citizen was a private or public figure, the citizen should be judged to be a private figure. So what you’re saying, Johnson asked, is that we don’t need to change the law, just give the benefit of the doubt to private citizens? Wood agreed, adding that the court should send a message that “private citizens will have a fair playing field” in libel litigation. The First Amendment, Wood argued, does not belong to the AJC or the media alone. “It belongs to you. It belongs to me. It belongs to Richard Jewell. It belongs to all the people.” With just under six minutes left to argue in rebuttal, Canfield stood up again. “What the plaintiff has presented is not a legal case, it’s a cause,” he told the panel. Wood, he said, had not presented one example to the court of any inaccurate reporting by the AJC nor had he explained why Jewell needs disclosure of the confidential sources.

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