The N.C. Court of Appeals on Tuesday issued a ruling that limits some libel claims brought against The News & Observer by a State Bureau of Investigation agent featured in the newspaper’s award-winning investigative series, “Agents’ Secrets.”
But the three-judge appellate panel’s unanimous decision allows some of the claims to proceed to trial.
Beth Desmond, an SBI agent since February 2002, filed a lawsuit against The N&O and some of its reporters and editors in 2012.
She contends that in one part of the series, titled “SBI relies on bullet analysis that critics deride as unreliable,” there were “false, misleading and scurrilous statements” made about her.
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Though the N&O stands by the story and sought to have the suit dismissed on First Amendment rights, a Wake County judge allowed the case to proceed but limited the defendants to the N&O; McClatchy, the parent publishing company; and staff writer Mandy Locke.
In the Tuesday ruling, the appeals court panel winnowed the list of 16 contested statements to six. The ruling states that the questions should be put to a jury to decide whether they are “false and defamatory” and whether the reporter acted “with actual malice” when including them in the report.