Thursday, July 17, 2003

Decision to dismiss ex-cop's defamation lawsuit upheld

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Hamilton County appeals court has upheld a lower court decision dismissing former Cincinnati police officer Robert "Blaine" Jorg's $10 million defamation lawsuit against the Cincinnati Black United Front activist group and its president, the Rev. Damon Lynch III.

Jorg filed the lawsuit about a year ago, claiming Lynch and the group harmed his reputation by writing and publishing a letter that fueled the economic boycott of Cincinnati.

The letter accused Jorg of using a "Marine-style chokehold to kill unarmed Roger Owensby, Jr.," a 29-year-old College Hill man, during a Nov. 7, 2000, arrest at a Roselawn gas station.

The same document prompted Mayor Charlie Luken to dismiss Lynch as co-chairman of his Cincinnati Community Action Now commission.

In a 10-page ruling, the three-judge panel concluded unanimously that the statements in the Black United Front's letter were opinions and therefore protected free speech.

The appeals court added that the statements at issue were clearly "hyperbole" meant to persuade the reader that an immediate crisis was occurring in the city.

"Considering the allegedly defamatory statements in the context of the entire letter, we are convinced that the average reader would be unlikely to infer that the statements were meant to be factual," the appeals court said.

"As the trial court concluded, it was advocacy, not objective news."

The opinion was written by Judge Mark Painter. Judges Rupert Doan and J. Howard Sundermann agreed.

Lynch said Wednesday he expected such a decision from the appeals court.

"We knew his lawsuit was frivolous and it was an effort to try to mute our criticism of him," Lynch said.

"In our opinion, he is culpable in the death of Roger Owensby Jr."

William Gustavson, Jorg's attorney, said he was disappointed by the decision.

He said it is unclear at this point whether his client will file an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.

"I can't conceive of how the court would conclude that was a statement of opinion and not fact, but we have to abide by the court's decision," Gustavson said.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman dismissed the lawsuit in December, citing case law that says "the allegedly defamatory statements are the type of hyperbole and invective that public officers must simply endure."

Jorg, who now works as a police officer in Clermont County's Pierce Township, filed the lawsuit as part of a continuing effort to clear his name.

He was acquitted in October 2001 of assault in the asphyxiation death of Owensby.

Because jurors could not reach a unanimous decision, a mistrial was declared on the more serious involuntary manslaughter charge Jorg also faced.

Prosecutors chose not to retry him.


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