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S.C. high court finds newspaper defamed woman

By The Associated Press
04.13.06

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A Charleston newspaper defamed a former children's guardian by printing false allegations, the South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled.

Linda Erickson of Dorchester County sued the Charleston City Paper's parent company, Jones Street Publishers, about a January 2000 story that addressed the guardian ad litem system, which assigns people to represent the interests of a child in legal matters.

In the article, a Summerville woman whose daughter was going through a divorce made a number of allegations against Erickson's professional abilities. Erickson was a guardian for the woman's granddaughter.

Patricia Beal charged that Erickson had not properly investigated her daughter's case, had reached erroneous conclusions and had manipulated the Family Court.

Erickson was not identified by name, but it was accepted in court that she was the person that was the focus of the allegations, her lawyer's office said.

The Supreme Court wrote in Erickson v. Jones Street Publishers that the newspaper had made several mistakes, including failing to check the reliability of the charges.

The justices also ruled Erickson was a private figure. That meant Erickson did not have to prove the newspaper acted maliciously, a standard required in cases involving public officials.

The court ordered that a new jury be seated to decide on damages.

Neither publisher Noel Mermer nor the newspaper's attorney, John Kerr, returned phone calls by the Associated Press seeking comment for this story.

Last month, Erickson was awarded nearly $6.5 million in actual and punitive damages by a Charleston County jury after she sued a group of citizens over similar allegations.


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