Ott v. Murphy

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation141 N.W. 463,160 Iowa 730
Decision Date13 May 1913

160 Iowa 730
141 N.W. 463


Supreme Court of Iowa.

May 13, 1913.

Appeal from District Court, Dubuque County; Robert Bonson, Judge.

Action to recover damages for libels published of and concerning the plaintiff. Defendants pleaded justification; that the publications were privileged; that they were published in good faith and for justifiable ends. On the issues joined the case was tried to a jury, resulting in a verdict and judgment for plaintiff, and defendants appeal. Affirmed.

[141 N.W. 465]

Kenline & Roedell, of Dubuque, for appellants.

Hurd, Lenehan & Kiesel, of Dubuque, for appellee.


The defendant, Telegraph-Herald, is a corporation, publishing a daily newspaper of that name in the city of Dubuque. This newspaper circulates, not only in Iowa, but in the adjoining states of Illinois and Wisconsin. Defendants Murphy and Quigley are, respectively, the editor and publisher of said newspaper, and it is charged that Murphy by and with the consent, approval, and command of his codefendant, Quigley, published of and concerning the plaintiff in the Telegraph-Herald the following false, libelous, and scandalous matter:

“The Telegraph-Herald hears that Mr. Joseph J. Ott is ambitious to secure the citizen's nomination for mayor.

Mr. Ott professed to be a Democrat until two years ago, when he became a candidate for mayor on a ticket opposed to the Democratic ticket.

His change of coat indicated that he had neither depth of political convictions, nor depth of character.

Mr. Ott was beaten for mayor two years ago. It is well that he was beaten. The city has had two years of very good government. The tax levy this year is a half mill less than it was last year.

Mr. Ott is an extravagant manager and if he had been mayor, we have no doubt that there would have been a large increase in the tax levy.

Mr. Ott made the race interesting last year by the use of money which his friends and certain interests which hate Mayor Schunk contributed for him. Beer flowed like water and the campaign ended in a debauch,--a shameless prostitution of decency.

Ott and his supporters spent upwards of $10,000. Big tax dodgers, certain employers who resented the ‘effrontery’ of Mayor Schunk in suggesting arbitration of a strike, the discredited waterworks trustees, a large and affable citizen who, advised of the illegality of a certain course, replied, ‘to hell with the law,’--these and others were the grand army of civic idealist back of the Ott candidacy. These and John Steiner, former Sheriff, and one Lange, whose volubility estops corruption of his name into one Lung. Among them all they had money enough to turn the spigot wide open, knock out the bung, and ‘let 'er flow.’

Mr. Ott may suit himself about running. The same interests which backed him before may suit themselves about putting their money on a dead horse. But we hope that should he be granted another chance at the mayoralty that he will give his ideals an antiseptic bath and avoid the indecent spectacle of making the electorate drunk.”

It is alleged that thereby defendants intended “* * * to charge plaintiff with lack of reputable character, that he was unsafe, unreliable, and dangerous as a business manager, that plaintiff had used money in procuring and producing a public drunken debauch, and that his conduct in the community where he lives was a shameless prostitution of decency, and that defendants further intended by the article so maliciously written, composed, published, and circulated by them concerning the plaintiff to charge that he had undertaken to and did corrupt and debauch the voters of the city of Dubuque by the unlawful, free, and unlimited use of money and beer in a certain election therein referred to and held two years before the publication of said libelous article. And plaintiff further avers that by its contemptuous language and coarse and insulting insinuations defendants intended to, and by the use of the words and expressions contained in said article did, hold the plaintiff up to the scorn of its readers, and intended thereby to belittle, ridicule, and expose him to public hatred, bring him into disgrace amongst his neighbors and the people of the community where he lives, and to provoke him to wrath, and by the publication of the false and defamatory words aforesaid, and of the article herein set forth, to insinuate, suggest, and charge that he was a man of low, coarse, unclean moral standards, ideas, and methods, and was unworthy the confidence, respect, and association of his neighbors, business associates, and the public generally.” This publication was made on the 3d day of March, 1910, and it seems that on the 18th day of the same month plaintiff commenced his action of libel, based thereon. Thereupon, and on the same day, defendants published of and concerning the

[141 N.W. 466]

plaintiff, in said newspaper, the following: “The Telegraph-Herald considers that (Mr. Ott) has revealed a modesty which none suspected him to harbor in asking a mere $20,000 as balm for his wounded vanity. Over in Paris, they are producing a play called Chanticleer. The principal character is a rooster who considers that the sun rises in response to his crowing and that if he should fail to crow the sun would not rise. Doubtless if some dunghill rooster with a far reaching voice should imply that the sun would rise even if Chanticleer should not crow, Chanticleer would consider that his reputation had been damaged $20,000 worth.” The publication of the last article is made the basis of a second count to the plaintiff's petition, which was filed April 8, 1910, and it is said that the second publication was made “maliciously and deliberately intending to give further and wider publicity to the malicious libel published and circulated by them and to further ridicule the said plaintiff, and to expose him to the contempt, ridicule and hatred of the readers of said newspaper and the people of the community in which he lives, and to provoke him to wrath.”

It is also charged that the original libel was republished on March 18th with the same intent as the former publication. Defendants admit the publications, but justify the first on the theory that it was privileged for the reason that plaintiff was then a candidate for office, that they believed all the charges to be true, and published the same in good faith, and for the purpose of advising the electorate of the real character and qualifications of plaintiff for the office which he was then seeking. They admit the republication of the same article on the 18th of March, and of the matter charged in the second count of the petition, and aver that they “were fully informed regarding all the facts and circumstances covered by said editorial, and comment thereon, and believed that the words published, the statements made, and the deductions therein drawn in said editorial and comment thereon were true, and published them without malice and in good faith, after plaintiff had given notorious circulation and publication thereof, by the institution of an action at law for damages, in the district court of Dubuque county, Iowa, against these defendants, wherein said editorial was made the basis of his recovery in said action as a matter of public record in said suit.” They also averred “that the publication of said article was likewise privileged in that the subject-matter thereof, the deductions therein drawn and the comments therein made were reasonable, proper and of general public interest and concern, and that the publication thereof was made in good faith and without malice towards plaintiff in furthering the interests of clean political campaigns, civic purity, and good government.” In another division of their answer, they also averred “the truth of said articles so published and as charged; that the deductions drawn and the comments made in said articles were reasonable, right, proper, and fitting to be made; and that said articles were so published without malicious and with good motives, and for justifiable ends as stated in divisions one and two of defendants' answer. And defendants expressly deny that the articles so published were either false, malicious or defamatory.” They further pleaded “that at and before the time of such publication the plaintiff, as defendants then knew, was and had declared himself to be, and it was generally reported that he was, a candidate for the office of mayor of the city of Dubuque, seeking the support of the electors of said city and the general public for his nomination for said office on what was known as the Citizens' Nonpartisan Ticket, at an election thereafter to be held on April 4, 1910, in said city; that two years prior thereto the plaintiff had been the nominee for the office of mayor of the city of Dubuque on the said Citizens' Nonpartisan Ticket, and he took an active part in the conduct and management of his political campaign for said office at said election, and the defendants were fully informed and acquainted regarding the facts, circumstances, and conditions involved in and connected with the management of said prior campaign, and were acquainted with the former political affiliations of the plaintiff, covering a great many years, and knew of his connection with, and management of, some local enterprises, and the defendants were fully informed and acquainted regarding all the facts and circumstances covered by said article, and honestly believed that the article thus published, the statements therein made, were true, reasonable, proper, and of general public interest and concern, touching his qualifications and fitness for the office sought and in furtherance of civic purity, sound morality, judicious economy, and good government, and so published them, solely for such purpose, in good faith in the discharge of their duty to the public and without malice toward the plaintiff; that, furthermore, at and before the time of such...

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  • Scott-Burr Stores Corporation v. Edgar, 32451
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    ...N.Y.S. 847; Fitzgerald v. Young, 89 Nee. 693, 132 N.W. 127; Von Longhuyzen v. Daily News Co., 203: Mich. 570, 170 N.W. 93; Ott v. Murphy, 160 Iowa 730, 141 N.W. 463; Johnson v. Featherstone, 141 Ky. 793, 133 S.W. 753; Craven v. Walker, 101 Gar. 845, 29 S.E. 152; Vest v. Speakman, 153 Ala. 3......
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    ...that there was malice in the publication. Thompson v. Rake, 140 Iowa 232, 234-35, 118 N.W. 279, 280 (1908); see also Ott v. Murphy, 160 Iowa 730, 741-42, 141 N.W. 463, 468 (Iowa 1913); accord Vojak v. Jensen, 161 N.W.2d 100, 107 (Iowa 1968) ("Actual malice is defined as ill-will, hatred or ......
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