Telegram Newspaper Co. v. Commonwealth

Decision Date04 January 1899
Citation52 N.E. 445,172 Mass. 294
PartiesTELEGRAM NEWSPAPER CO. v. COMMONWEALTH. GAZETTE CO. v. SAME.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
COUNSEL

F.P. Goulding, D. Manning, and W.C. Mellish, for plaintiffs in error.

Herbert Parker, Dist. Atty., and G.S. Taft, Asst. Dist. Atty., for the Commonwealth.

OPINION

FIELD C.J.

These are two writs of error, and, although the pleadings may possibly raise issues of fact as well as issues of law, the cases were entered, without objection on the part of any of the parties, upon the docket of the full court, and each case was heard upon the plea, "In nullo est erratum." The Telegram Newspaper Company is a Massachusetts corporation, having its usual place of business in Worcester and publishing there a daily newspaper. The Gazette Company is a corporation established under the laws of the state of Maine, having its usual place of business in Worcester, and publishing there a daily newspaper. It is understood that it had complied with St.1884, c. 330, and had made the commissioner of corporations its attorney, upon whom legal process might be served. The record in the cases recites that the corporations, respectively, appeared in the superior court, with counsel, in obedience to the summons of that court to show cause why they should not be adjudged in contempt for publishing certain articles in their newspapers of the dates of January 13th and 14th, respectively, of the year 1898, which articles dealt with and discussed the matter of the trial before said court of the action or petition of Silas H. Loring against the town of Holden, and that the corporations appeared, and were heard, so that any question of due service of the summons upon the foreign corporation has become immaterial.

The petition of Silas H. Loring against the town of Holden at the time of the publication of the articles in the newspapers was on trial before the superior court then sitting at Worcester, and it was a petition for the assessment of damages suffered by the taking of land of the petitioner for the abolition of a grade crossing of the Fitchburg Railroad Company. The portion of the articles published which the court found was calculated to obstruct the course of justice in said court, and prevent a fair trial of said petition, was, after describing the petition of Loring against the town of Holden, the following: "The town offered Loring $80 at the time of the taking, but he demanded $250, and, not getting it, went to law," which appeared in the Worcester Daily Telegram; and "The town offered the plaintiff $80, but he wanted $250," which appeared in the Worcester Evening Gazette. Whether there is any truth in these statements does not appear. The facts stated, even if they were true, were not admissible in evidence at the trial of the petition before the superior court; and, so far as appears, they were no part of the proceedings at the trial, and, if they were brought to the knowledge of the jurors before they rendered their verdict, were calculated to influence them upon the amount of the damages to be given by their verdict. The newspapers were published and circulated in Worcester, and it was not improbable at the time of publication that the articles would be read by some of the jurors before the trial of the petition was finished.

The record before us in each case, after setting out the whole of the articles published, and the summons, service, and appearance of the corporation, and the hearing, concludes as follows: "When, after hearing all matters and things concerning said publication by said respondents, it appearing to said court that said article was calculated to obstruct the course of justice in said court, and prevent a fair trial of said case, and that it was a contempt of said court for said corporation to publish the said article during the said trial, it was, therefore, ordered by said court that said respondent corporation be adjudged guilty of contempt of said court for said publication of said article; and it was thereupon ordered by said court that said respondent corporation pay a fine of $100, and it was further ordered that, if said fine be not paid within twenty-four hours, an execution be issued against said respondent corporation for the collection of said fine by a levy on its property."

It is contended that a corporation cannot be guilty of a criminal contempt of court, although it may be fined for what is called a "civil contempt." It is said that an intent cannot be imputed to a corporation in criminal proceedings. It has been decided in this commonwealth that a corporation may be liable civilly for a libel or a malicious prosecution. Fogg v. Railroad Co., 148 Mass. 513, 20 N.E. 109; Reed v. Bank, 130 Mass. 443. We think that a corporation may be liable criminally for certain offenses, of which a specific intent may be a necessary element. There is no more difficulty in imputing to a corporation a specific intent in criminal proceedings than in civil. A corporation cannot be arrested and imprisoned in either civil or criminal proceedings; but its property may be taken, either as compensation for a private wrong or as punishment for a public wrong. In most of the states of this country corporations may be formed, under general laws, for the purpose of doing almost any kind of business, as easily as partnerships, and many of the newspapers are published by corporations. Although natural persons who publish or assist in publishing a libel in a newspaper owned by a corporation may be punished criminally by fine or imprisonment, or both, yet, if the corporation cannot be punished by a fine, it will escape all criminal liability. The authors of libels are often irresponsible persons, and the remedy by private action against corporations for the publishing of libelous statements is often inadequate. That a corporation may be indicted for a misfeasance as well as for a nonfeasance has been decided in this commonwealth. Com. v. New Bedford Bridge, 2 Gray, 339. See Reg. v. Great North of England Ry., 9 Adol. & E. (N.S.) 315, 326. A corporation may be indicted for a libel. State v. Atchison, 3 Lea, 729, 31 Am.Rep. 663, and note; Brennan v. Tracy, 2 Mo.App. 543; Pharmaceutical Soc. v. London & Provincial Supply Ass'n, 5 App.Cas. 857, 869, 870; 2 Bish. New Cr.Law, §§ 9, 35; Newell, Defam. (2d Ed.) 362, 363; Odgers, Sland. (3d Ed.) 436; 5 Thomp.Corp. § 6418 et seq. The publication of an article in a newspaper which is printed and circulated in the place where a trial is had, pending the trial, and which concerns the cause on trial, and is calculated to prejudice the jury in the cause and prevent a fair trial, often has been held to be a criminal contempt of the court trying the cause. O'Shea v. O'Shea, 15 Prob.Div. 59; Ex parte Green, 7 Times Law R. 411; Daw v. Eley, L.R. 7 Eq. 55; Ramsbotham v. Senior, L.R. 8 Eq. 575; People v. Wilson, 64 Ill. 195; In re Sturoc, 48 N.H. 428; In re Cheeseman, 49 N.J.Law, 137, 6 A. 513; State v. Frew, 24 W.Va. 416; Oswald, Contempt (2d Ed.) p. 58 et seq.; 7 Am. & Eng.Enc.Law (2d Ed.) tit. "Contempt," p. 59. If a corporation publishes the article, we see no reason why it should not be held liable for a criminal contempt. 5 Thomp. Corp. §§ 64, 68, et seq.; 7 Am. & Eng.Enc.Law (2d Ed.) p. 847, on corporations and cases cited. There are no statutes in this commonwealth regulating the proceedings in the trial and punishment of contempt of court. "The summary power to commit and punish for contempt tending to obstruct or defeat the administration of justice is inherent in courts of chancery and other superior courts, as essential to the execution of their powers and to the maintenance of authority, and is part of the law of the land, within the meaning of Magna Charta and of the twelfth article of our declaration of rights." Cartwright's Case, 114 Mass. 230, 238; Tinsley v. Anderson, 171 U.S. 101, 18 Sup.Ct. 805.

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7 books & journal articles
  • Corporate Criminal Liability
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review No. 59-3, July 2022
    • July 1, 2022
    ...for certain offenses of which a specif‌ic intent may be a necessary element.” (quoting Telegram Newspaper Co. v. Commonwealth Gazette Co., 52 N.E. 445, 446 (Mass. 1899))); see also United States v. L. E. Myers Co., 562 F.3d 845, 854 (7th Cir. 2009) (noting corporate knowledge doctrine requi......
  • Corporate criminal liability.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 47 No. 2, March 2010
    • March 22, 2010
    ...criminally for certain offenses of which a specific intent may be a necessary element." (quoting Telegram Newspaper Co. v. Commonwealth, 52 N.E. 445, 446 (Mass. 1899))); see also United States v. Sain, 141 F.3d 463, 475 (3d Cir. 1998) (noting if agent of corporation conspires with another, ......
  • Corporate criminal liability.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 46 No. 2, March 2009
    • March 22, 2009
    ...criminally for certain offenses of which a specific intent may be a necessary element." (quoting Telegram Newspaper Co. v. Commonwealth, 52 N.E. 445, 446 (Mass. 1899))); see also United States v. Sain, 141 F.3d 463, 475 (3d Cir. 1998) (noting if agent of corporation conspires with another, ......
  • Corporate criminal liability.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 45 No. 2, March 2008
    • March 22, 2008
    ...criminally for certain offenses of which a specific intent may be a necessary element." (quoting Telegram Newspaper Co. v. Commonwealth, 52 N.E. 445, 446 (Mass. 1899))); see also United States v. Sain, 141 F.3d 463, 475 (3d Cir. 1998) (noting if agent of corporation conspires with another, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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