416 N.E.2d 662 (Ohio App. 11 Dist. 1979), Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.

Citation:416 N.E.2d 662, 65 Ohio App.2d 143
Opinion Judge:HOFSTETTER, J.
Party Name:MILKOVICH, Appellant, v. The LORAIN JOURNAL COMPANY et al., Appellees. [*]
Attorney:Nathan Simon and Michael J. Occhionero, Cleveland, for appellant., Wickens, Herzer & Panza Co., L.P.A., William G. Wickens and David L. Herzer, Lorain, for appellees. Mr. Nathan Simon and Mr. Michael J. Occhionero, for appellant., Wickens, Herzer & Panza Co., L.P.A., Mr. William C. Wickens and M...
Judge Panel:CONNORS, J., concurs. COOK, Judge, dissenting.
Case Date:December 03, 1979
Court:Court of Appeals of Ohio
 
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416 N.E.2d 662 (Ohio App. 11 Dist. 1979)

65 Ohio App.2d 143

MILKOVICH, Appellant,

v.

The LORAIN JOURNAL COMPANY et al., Appellees. [*]

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Lake.

December 3, 1979

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Syllabus by the Court

1. Though the press might be at liberty to criticize the judicial process and the results of a given case, unless and until the judgment of the court is overturned on appeal, the determination of what constitutes the truth has been made.

2. Thus, any news article written either as fact as a news item, or as opinion, that is published knowing that it conflicts with a judicial determination of the truth, may be regarded as a reckless disregard of the truth so as to constitute "actual malice" so as to be actionable libel of a public person.

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  1. Whether the publication constitutes a reckless disregard of the truth is not a question of law, but a question of fact based on the evidence before the court.

4. In a motion for a directed verdict, if the facts are undisputed, the issue is one for the court; but, where the circumstances are such that reasonable minds might reach different conclusions as to the inferences to be drawn from the undisputed evidence, there arises a question of fact for the jury.

Nathan Simon and Michael J. Occhionero, Cleveland, for appellant.

Wickens, Herzer & Panza Co., L.P.A., William G. Wickens and [65 Ohio App.2d 143] David L. Herzer, Lorain, for appellees.

HOFSTETTER, Judge.

The matter on appeal came on for trial before a jury. After the plaintiff-appellant rested his case, the [65 Ohio App.2d 144] defendants jointly moved the court for a directed verdict in their favor on the grounds that there was no justiciable issue for the jury and that reasonable minds could come but to one conclusion, to wit, that the proof failed to show by clear and convincing proof that the article which is the subject of this action was published with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard as to its truth.

The trial court granted the motion in favor of the defendants, as follows:

"The Court finds that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, to-wit: that the evidence (construed most strongly in favor of the Plaintiff) fails to establish by clear and convincing proof that the article which was the subject of this action was published with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth, and that there is no justiciable issue for the jury. Exceptions to the Plaintiff."

It is from this judgment, granting a directed verdict for the defendants, that plaintiff has appealed.

As background, the complaint in the court below was an action in libel filed by the plaintiff-appellant, Michael Milkovich, against the defendants-appellees, The Lorain Journal Publishing Company, owner and publisher of the Willoughby News-Herald, and Mr. Theodore Diadiun, as the result of the publication of a certain article on January 8, 1975. The article in question was stipulated at trial and admitted into evidence.

The events which led to the eventual publication of this alleged libelous article began on the evening of February 9, 1974, at a routine high school wrestling match between Mentor High School and Maple Heights High School. The latter team was coached by the now-retired Michael Milkovich, appellant herein. It appears that, during and shortly after a wrestling match between Bob Girardi of Maple Heights and Paul Pochatilla of Mentor High School, an alleged melee broke out among the fans and spectators in the crowd, and among the wrestling participants themselves. One of the defendants, Ted Diadiun, a sportswriter for The News-Herald, wrote a series of articles following the occurrence.

Following the altercation, a series of hearings were conducted by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) in Columbus, Ohio, following which the Maple Heights team [65 Ohio App.2d 145] was totally suspended from state competition, and the appellant, Michael Milkovich, was censured.

It was at this time that a group of parents and wrestlers filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County in an action styled as Barrett v. Ohio High School Athletic Association. It was held by that court that the OHSAA failed to safeguard certain due process rights in suspending the team from state competition, thereby denying the team members of important property rights without due process of law.

Immediately after the announcement of the decision of Judge Martin of the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County reinstating the Maple Heights team to state competition, the defendants published the alleged libelous article with the headline "Maple beat the law with the 'big lie.' "

Factually, therefore, it should be noted that, following the alleged melee between

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the Maple Heights and Mentor wrestling crowds, and as a result of hearings, the OHSAA suspended the Maple Heights team from...

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