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John v. Tribune Company

DECEMBER 21, 1960.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook county; the Hon. HENRY W. DIERINGER, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded.


Rehearing denied January 30, 1961.

A suit was brought by Eve Spiro John, hereafter referred to as the plaintiff, against Tribune Company, hereafter referred to as the defendant. The basis of the suit was the publication by the defendant of two stories which the plaintiff alleged libeled her. The case was tried before a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of the defendant upon which the court entered judgment. Plaintiff's post-trial motions for a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict were overruled. This appeal follows.

The plaintiff here contends that she did not have a fair trial, that the trial court committed prejudicial errors in the conduct of the trial in excluding proper evidence offered by the plaintiff and in admitting immaterial and prejudicial evidence on the part of the defendant, and that the court improperly refused certain jury instructions offered by the plaintiff.

The case was before this court once before (John v. Tribune Co., 19 Ill. App.2d 547, 154 N.E.2d 862). In that appeal we set aside an order of the trial court striking the third amended complaint of the plaintiff and dismissing the suit, and the opinion contains the following statement:

"The case grows out of two news items in defendant's newspaper describing a police raid of an apartment at 4417 Ellis avenue, Chicago, in which a number of women were arrested. On March 30, 1952, defendant published an article describing the raid, saying: `Dolores Reising, 57, alias Eve Spiro and Eve John, who, police said, was known years ago as Accardo's woman friend, was held as the suspected keeper of the apartment.' On March 31, 1952, defendant published another article, saying that the five women arrested in the raid would appear in the Women's court Wednesday and that `Dorothy Clark, 57, who gave 4417 Ellis Av. as her address, was charged with being keeper of a disorderly house. . . . Police said she is also known as Dolores Reising, Eve Spiro, and Eve John, and was known years ago as a girl friend of Tony Accardo, Capone gangster.' Plaintiff's name at the time was Eve John and her maiden name was Eve Spiro. She lived in an apartment below the one raided and it is alleged in the complaint that she was the only person with that name at that address. The complaint alleges that the articles were understood by readers of defendant's newspaper to refer to plaintiff; that the statements were false and had seriously damaged plaintiff's reputation and caused her severe mental and physical distress and loss of practice as a psychologist."

It was there held that the language of the articles was libelous per se, and the court says: "What is presented for trial in this case is a question of fact and not of law. The question is whether readers of the articles did and could reasonably understand them to refer to plaintiff." The cause was remanded for trial.

The defendant thereupon filed an answer to the third amended complaint of the plaintiff, in which it admits that a raid on the premises at 4417 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, occurred and a number of women were arrested; that plaintiff resided at 4417 South Ellis Avenue in the apartment below the apartment which was raided on March 29, 1952; that she was not present in the raid, nor was she taken to the police station; that the police records did not contain plaintiff's name; and that the defendant published the articles in question in the Chicago Tribune. Defendant stated it did not have sufficient information to admit or deny that at the times material herein plaintiff's true name was Eve John and that her name before she was married was Eve Spiro. The defendant denied that it published the articles intending to injure the plaintiff in her good name and denied that statements in the articles concerning Eve Spiro and Eve John refer to the plaintiff. It stated that it had no knowledge concerning what person other than the plaintiff at 4417 Ellis Avenue used the names Eve Spiro and Eve John "save that defendant is informed and believes that plaintiff's landlord who resided on the premises has on occasions used said names." Defendant denied that it meant by the article that the plaintiff was unchaste and had been an inmate of a resort for dissolute persons, that the publications were so understood by the readers of the paper, and that the articles charged the plaintiff with any wrongdoing whatsoever or that the plaintiff has by the publication of the articles been injured in her reputation.

During the trial of the case the plaintiff testified that she had lived in the apartment at Ellis Avenue for about seven years before the raid. The building was a three-story building with a basement, the front part of which had been converted into an apartment occupied by the plaintiff. She also testified that her maiden name was Eve Spiro; that her legal name at the time of the raid was Eve Spiro John; that at that time she had been divorced from her husband Roy John and he was not living with her; that she had two daughters who did live with her; that at the time in question she worked as an intern at the Veteran's Administration, was a research assistant at the University of Chicago, did occasional lecturing, and taught at the Lawson YMCA in the adult education division in the evenings. She was also then working for her doctor's degree (Ph.D. in psychology, which she received in 1953). She had previously worked part time at Mt. Sinai Hospital Dispensary as a chief clinical psychologist. She stated that at the time of the publication she was listed in the telephone directory under the name of Eve Spiro John, with her address that of the apartment; that she was then 27 years old; and that while she was living there she was preparing her doctoral thesis. The plaintiff was called as an adverse witness and over objection the defendant asked the following questions, after having the thesis of the plaintiff marked for identification and identified by the plaintiff, and the following answers were given:

"Q. This book dealt with sex in part and intersexuality, did it not? A. Not as commonly construed at all.

"Q. Well, did it deal — forgive me for asking these questions, but did it deal with attitudes toward sexual activities for example? A. There was one rating scale which I used in determining the state of mental health of the subjects and that rating scale was used, yes. It related essentially to you how these people regarded loving others.

"Q. Well, did it? A. This is called sexuality in psychology, but it is not what the common man refers to, I think, by sexuality."

The defendant then offered the thesis in evidence, to which offer the plaintiff objected. The book was admitted in evidence. It appears in the record as a book of 155 typewritten pages. In it there is a discussion of hetero-and homosexuality, and on at least one page of the book the discussion is quite frank and of a character which could be easily misunderstood by a person not familiar with the psychological connotations therein involved. The reason for offering the book apparently was not at the time it was offered, nor in this court, crystal clear to the defendant. In the trial court the defendant took the view that it ...

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