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Before a federal court decides if John and Patsy Ramsey’s defamation case can proceed against Court TV, it must decide which state’s law will apply. The Ramseys sued Court TV in 2001, accusing it of publishing a press release and broadcasting a panel show in which it falsely identified JonBen�t Ramsey’s brother, Burke, as a one-time suspect in the murder investigation. Ramsey v. Courtroom Television Network, LLC, No 1:01-cv-1561 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 14, 2001). The show and the press release found a nationwide audience. During a hearing Wednesday the Ramseys’ Atlanta lawyer L. Lin Wood Jr. told U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper that Georgia law should apply, while Court TV’s lawyer Cameron A. Stracher of Levine Sullivan & Koch in Washington, D.C., contended the New York law is more appropriate. This issue could make a big difference later in any possible trial. In Georgia, the plaintiffs would have to show only that Court TV was negligent in the statements it made about Burke Ramsey, whom Wood intends to argue is a private figure. On the other hand, in New York, the plaintiffs would have to show that Court TV acted with “gross irresponsibility” — a slightly higher standard. In choice of law disputes, federal courts apply to rules of the forum state. In Georgia, that’s lex loci delicti, which Wood argued should apply in this case. However, Judge Cooper noted that the principle doesn’t apply when the complaint concerns a multistate defamation action, and told the lawyers from the bench that he wouldn’t apply it. Rather, he said, he would apply the nine factors from the Restatement of Conflict of Laws, � 150, to decide which state’s law should govern. THE NINE FACTORS That set both sides into a flurry of factor-counting — each lawyer trying to rack up more notches for his side. The nine factors the restatement establishes are: • the state where the plaintiff lives; • the state where the defendant is said to have done alleged defamation; • the state where the plaintiff suffered the most harm; • the state where the defendant lives or is incorporated; • the location of the defendant’s main publishing office; • the state where the alleged defamation circulated most; • the place the defamatory information came from; • the state where the defamation was seen first; and • the state of the forum. Wood claimed one, three, “half” of five and eight, and nine. Stracher, however, said Georgia could legitimately claim only three factors: one, three and nine. On the other hand, he said, the defendant’s home state, main office, the state of primary circulation, and place of emanation all favor New York. That, he said, leaves four factors favoring New York, three favoring Georgia, and two neutral, or favoring the law of Colorado, where the murder occurred. “With all due respect to Mr. Wood’s math, he’s counting out nine and coming up with 10,” Stracher said. Wood countered that the court shouldn’t give each of the factors equal weight. Court TV, he said, is a New York company. But it injured a Georgia resident. The more important factors, he said, are the ones that favor applying Georgia law. “You have to weigh the factors,” Wood said. “He’s got four singles but I’ve got three home runs.” Stracher scoffed at Wood’s suggestion that the court weigh the factors. “There’s no case authority for that anywhere,” he told the judge. Judge Cooper said he would not rule until next Friday. But he reminded the lawyers that whatever he decides might affect the defense’s outstanding motion to dismiss, and the plaintiffs’ outstanding motion for summary judgment. The arguments Wednesday included the former but not the latter. NETWORK ACCUSED OF LIBEL The plaintiff’s complaint accuses Court TV of libel for statements it published in an Oct. 27, 1997, press release and “defamacast” for statements made during a Nov. 5, 1997, panel show discussing the murder. On both charges, the plaintiffs are seeking $10 million in actual damages, $25 million in punitive damages, plus court costs. The news release promoted the show titled “Who Killed JonBen�t Ramsey, Prime Suspects,” featuring such perennial celebrity case dissectors as Mark Fuhrman, Vincent Bugliosi and Larry Pozner. The panel, the release noted, would weigh the evidence “incriminating or exonerating” what it called four possible suspects: JonBenet’s parents, her brother, or an outside intruder. The gist of the show and the release, Wood said, is that Boulder, Colo., police and prosecutors had considered Burke a key suspect at one time. However, Wood argued, Boulder law enforcement never marked Burke as a formal suspect in the investigation and never found any evidence linking him to his sister’s death. “The conduct of Defendant in exploiting a twelve year old child for profit by placing him on trial on television for the brutal murder of his sister is reprehensible and unconscionable conduct.” Stracher and co-counsel John J. Dalton, of Atlanta-based Troutman Sanders, accused Wood of patching together defamatory statements and then wrenching them out of context. In his memorandum supporting his motion to dismiss, Stracher notes that the press release didn’t accuse Burke of any crime, and that the show “in fact, communicated precisely the opposite message to viewers, offering detailed and specific evidence indicating that he could not have murdered his sister.” JonBen�t Ramsey was murdered sometime between the night of Dec. 25, 1996, and the morning of Dec. 26, 1996, in the Ramsey home in Boulder. JonBen�t was 6 at the time; Burke was 9. The murder sparked intense media scrutiny nationwide, including several books, countless television broadcasts and a flood of articles. A grand jury sitting in Boulder in 1998 and 1999 finished without returning indictments against anyone. No one has been charged with the girl’s death.

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