Monitor Patriot Company v. Roy
Just before the 1960 New Hampshire Democratic primary election, petitioner newspaper published a column characterizing senatorial candidate Roy as a 'former small-time bootlegger.' Roy, who was not elected, sued the newspaper and the distributor of the column for libel. The judge told the jury that Roy, as a candidate, was a 'public official,' and that a rule requiring a showing that the article was false and had been published 'with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or true,' applied as long as the libel concerned 'official' as opposed to 'private' conduct. The jury were instructed that if they found the libel to be in the 'public sector,' they had to bring in a verdict for the distributor, as there was no evidence that it had engaged in knowing or reckless falsehood, but that they had to decide on the 'preponderance of the evidence' whether the newspaper was liable. If the publication was in the 'private sector,' there were two defenses: (1) 'justification,' if the article was true and published on a 'lawful occasion,' and (2) 'conditional privilege,' if the article was false but if the publication was 'on a lawful occasion, in good faith, for a justifiable purpose, and with a belief founded on reasonable grounds of the truth of the matter published.' The jury returned a verdict against both the newspaper and the distributor of the column. The State Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the jury properly considered whether the alleged libel was 'relevant' to Roy's fitness for office. Held:
1. Publications concerning candidates for public office must be accorded at least as much protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments as those concerning occupants of public office. Pp. 270-272.
2. As a matter of constitutional law, a charge of criminal conduct, no matter how remote in time or place, can never be irrelevant to an official's or a candidate's fitness for purposes of applying the 'knowing falsehood or reckless disregard' rule of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686. Pp. 272-277.
3. The jury here were erroneously permitted to determine that the criminal charge was not 'relevant' and that the New York Times standard was inapplicable. P. 277.
109 N.H. 441, 254 A.2d 832, reversed and remanded.
Edward Bennett Williams, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.
Stanley M. Brown, Manchester, N.H., for respondent.
Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.