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08/24/87 Michael Reed, v. Northwestern Publishing

August 24, 1987

MICHAEL REED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT

v.

NORTHWESTERN PUBLISHING COMPANY, D/B/A THE COMMERCIAL NEWS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES

THE FACTS OF THIS CASE HAVE BEEN THOROUGHLY SET FORTH BY THIS COURT IN PLAINTIFF'S PRIOR APPEAL OF THE TRIAL COURT'S SUMMARY JUDGMENT ORDER (REED

v.

NORTHWESTERN PUBLISHING CO. (1984), 129 ILL. APP. 3D 133, 471 N.E.2D 1071). THEREFORE, WE WILL BRIEFLY SUMMARIZE THE PERTINENT FACTS.



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FOURTH DISTRICT

512 N.E.2d 828, 159 Ill. App. 3d 699, 111 Ill. Dec. 439 1987.IL.1228

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. Carl A. Lund, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE SCOTT delivered the opinion of the court. HEIPLE and WOMBACHER, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE SCOTT

The plaintiff (Reed) brought this action for libel against the Northwestern Publishing Company, publisher of The Commercial News, a newspaper in Danville, and two of its reporters, Bob Wilson and Carl Young. Reed alleged in his complaint that Wilson and Young were the authors of some defamatory material concerning Reed which appeared in The Commercial News.

The trial court initially entered a summary judgment order in favor of defendants on June 29, 1983, and denied plaintiff's motion to vacate the order. Plaintiff's appeal to the Fourth District Appellate Court resulted in reversal of the summary judgment order (Reed v. Northwestern Publishing Co. (1984), 129 Ill. App. 3d 133, 471 N.E.2d 1071). On remand, a jury trial was had on the matter which resulted in a judgment for the defendants The Commercial News and Bob Wilson. Defendant Carl Young was dismissed at the close of the plaintiff's case upon a motion for directed verdict.

Plaintiff then filed a post-trial motion which was denied and, thus, appeals the directed verdict in favor of Carl Young, and the judgment in favor of Bob Wilson and The Commercial News.

The newspaper articles of which plaintiff complains stemmed from a grand jury investigation of burglaries and thefts allegedly committed by several members of the Danville police department during 1970 and 1971. Testimony on this subject was presented to a grand jury in several sessions in 1977 and 1978, and a seven-page report summarizing the testimony and the current grand jury's findings was released to the public on December 20, 1978. On the following day, The Commercial News published photographs and two articles relating to the investigation and report. The caption "Current Officers Implicated in Report" appeared under photographs of the plaintiff and of two other members of the Danville police department and of a county deputy sheriff. A caption appearing below the above caption stated "Four current law officers -- Arnold Yanders, Robert Testa, Michael Reed and Kenneth Cox -- were named by grand jury witnesses as joining in at least one or a few of the reported break-ins by policemen." In an article titled "Grand Jury Describes Police Burglary Setup," Bob Wilson referred to the involvement of two officers in several burglaries and then wrote:

"Massey, Roland and several other witnesses at the grand jury sessions identified other officers involved too.

They included former policemen Jerry Hill and Richard Moody and current officers Sgt. Robert Testa, patrolman Arnold Yanders, patrolman Michael Reed, and former patrolman Kenneth Cox, who is now a county deputy."

The article further stated, "Lt. Edwin McGee also testified about the Harding Pharmacy burglary, saying he came on the scene and found Hill, Roland, Massey and Officer Mike Reed inside but without their flashlights turned on." An accompanying article headlined "3 Deny Roles in Burglaries," stated "grand jury testimony summarized in the report said Reed was spotted inside a pharmacy with two officers who committed several burglaries."

On December 23, 1978, The Commercial News published another article written by Wilson concerning the investigation which summarized the grand jury's report by identifying the plaintiff as one of three current officers who had been named as participants in the misconduct. The article also repeated plaintiff's denial of the incident which had been quoted in one of the articles published two days earlier.

Carl Young wrote later articles concerning the investigation on March 6, 10, 28, and 29, 1979, which were also published by The Commercial News. These articles referred to the presence on the Danville police force of three current officers who had been mentioned in the grand jury report as participants in the misconduct. The officers were not specifically mentioned by name in these articles, but one of the articles ...


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