Newsreal Archives/Critic' Corners


The rise and potency of judicial libel lawsuits also highlights the increasing role of judges as First Amendment players. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that judges can say more about their views during election campaigns without violating ethics rules, and the American Bar Association recently added a new model rule that allows judges to respond to criticism -- or to ask third parties to defend them.

"Judges are more emboldened to sue nowadays," says Gary Hengstler, director of the Reynolds National Center for Courts and the Media at the National Judicial College. Hengstler holds workshops for judges on how to handle the media, and often hears complaints about the press.

But Hengstler hopes the ABA's new rule allowing judges to respond to criticism will act as a safety valve. "If judges employ that rule and respond to criticism publicly, that will get covered," Hengstler says. "Hopefully, that will alleviate the need for libel suits."

One way or another, lawyer James Goodale, former vice chairman of The New York Times, also hopes judges will stop suing newspapers.

"When judges judge judges, there is a built-in conflict of interest ... It would be the better part of valor for judges not to bring these cases," Goodale wrote in a recent New York Law Journal column. "Once they are brought, they may find themselves in the comic opera posture of the Illinois Supreme Court."

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