State Supreme Court hears cases in Valley

YAKIMA - Thursday morning, the Washington State Supreme Court took its work on the road, listening to oral arguments on three cases during a visit to Yakima Valley Community College in Yakima.

On of the cases heard by Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Justices Charles W. Johnson, Barbara A. Madsen, Richard B. Sanders, Faith Ireland, Bobbe J. Bridge, Tom Chambers, Susan J. Owens and Mary E. Fairhurst was the case of Mohr v. Grant.

The case involves a Spokane business owner, Eliot B. Mohr, and action he took against Spokane television station KXLY-TV and reporter Tom Grant. In the case, Mohr's attorneys argued that the newscast presented by Grant and the station defamed him, not because what was said during the segment was untrue, but because they failed to tell the whole story. The Washington Supreme Court will have to decide whether someone can be defamed by something that was not said.

Attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard, who represents several media organizations, as well as the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Society of Professional Journalists, noted that the case is one being watched by both the state and national press.

Hubbard asked the members of the Washington State Supreme Court to consider whether a member of the media should be held responsible for libel if a couple of facts in a police report are not included in a story.

"Part of the issue is whether or not you can ask the press to repeat verbatim what is in the public record," Hubbard said.

She said as it is now, the media works to tell the story in a way they feel is responsible, not putting in things that can't be proven.

Hubbard told the justices that the problem lies in how much does a reporter have to put in, noting that the case of Mohr v. Grant is trying to say that you have to put it all in.

Ryan Beaudoin, Mohr's attorney, then took to the podium saying that the overall "gist" of the story was the issue.

Justice Fairhurst told Beaudoin that it sounded like he would have simply liked the telecast to have shown his client in a more favorable light. She also noted that Beaudoin's client refused to be interviewed on several occasions. She asked how Beaudoin can expect a balanced story when the person involved refuses to participate.

Beaudoin, later in his argument, said that as a private citizen Mohr shouldn't have to concede to an interview.

"I do not think every person should be required to answer every question asked by a journalist," Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin also stated that the reporter should have included more background information on the situation, noting that it would have put a different light to the story.

Justice Ireland asked if it was known whether or not the reporter had all of the background information. Beaudoin said the reporter had the court file, as well as the police reports.

Grant's attorney, Laurel Siddoway, noted that all of the facts were presented in the two-minute long story that was run by KXLY-TV.

Following the oral argument of the case, the justices took a 10-minute recess before hearing the next case of the morning. Written opinions on the cases are expected within three to six months.


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