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Former GOP chair loses libel case in Idaho's highest court

By The Associated Press
05.29.07

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled against former state Republican Party Chairman Trent Clark in his libel lawsuit against a Spokane, Wash., newspaper.

The high court ruled May 24 that there was no evidence of actual malice when a reporter with The Spokesman-Review quoted Clark as saying, "You probably cannot find an African-American male on the street in Washington, D.C., that hasn't been arrested or convicted of a crime."

Clark has alleged he was misquoted in the 2001 article. He contends he actually said:

"I know of no African-American males in Washington, D.C., who don't have at least a couple of friends who have been arrested or convicted of a felony."

But the unanimous justices found that the quote that appeared in reporter Thomas Clouse's article matched both Clouse's recollection of the comment and his notes.

"Nonetheless, even assuming for the purposes of argument that the published statement was false, Clark still fails to meet the clear and convincing standard necessary to survive summary judgment on the issue of actual malice," Justice Roger Burdick wrote for the court.

Clark made his remarks in a story criticizing the newspaper's coverage of a 17-year-old drug incident involving a county Republican Party official. Clark argued that the man should not be judged on long-past associations or activities.

The article, published on Feb. 2, 2001, resulted in Clark's apologies to the Idaho NAACP branch and others. At the time, then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne characterized Clark's handling of the situation as insensitive to blacks but said the GOP chairman had "learned a great deal" from the case.

After the article was published, Clark sued, alleging the newspaper had defamed him and portrayed him in a false light in the public eye. First District Judge Eugene Marano dismissed Clark's claim, but Clark appealed, only to have Judge Charles Hosack rule again in the newspaper's favor. Once again Clark appealed, this time to the Supreme Court.

Clark did not return phone calls requesting comment in time for this story.

Carla Savalli, The Spokesman-Review's senior editor for local news, said she was pleased with the ruling.

"We've stood by Tom Clouse's reporting on Mr. Clark from the beginning and are gratified that the court affirmed our journalism by granting a summary judgment," Savalli said. "It's been a long process and we're happy it's over."

The newspaper's circulation area includes much of Idaho.


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