The Tennessee Supreme Court will soon hear a case being appealed by a local newspaper.
Jeffery Todd Burke initially sued the Sparta newspaper, The Expositor, for defamatory reports regarding an already closed indictment.
The Jeffery Todd Burke vs. Sparta Newspaper Inc. case began in the White County Circuit court, where court officials ruled in favor of the newspaper company under Tennessee’s fair report privilege.
Burke’s lawyer, Howell Acuff said the newspaper article placed Burke into the public eye with damaging facts that cost Burke his job.
“After the fact, the affidavits given by the reporters and Detective Isom, they are mutually corroborating as to what between them and what wound up in the article,” Acuff said. “But this is where it breaks ranks with every fair report case, that can be cited to because there is no external confirmation of what the report was.”
The news article under question reported Burke’s arrest and indictment involving misappropriation of fundraising money for a White County youth football league.
The article allegedly only cited Public Information Officer Chris Isom and did not report that all promised goods were delivered to the league.
Acuff said the Tennessee fair report privilege only applies to public action or proclamation of a publicly available activity. The report must also match with conduct and statement, in the form of a press release, deposition, warrant or press report.
The Tennessee Appeal’s Court granted Burke’s a reverse decision in April 2017.
Sparta Newspaper Inc.’s Lawyer Philip Kirkpatrick said that Burke fell into the category of a limited public figure due to past incidents and news reports.
“Now we are in White County, we have another youth football league and it’s already controversial. There is already public records of him having been arrested for doing the same thing…” Kirkpatrick said. “The theft or misappropriation of funds for a youth football league who has gone out and pre-sold the order and has gotten the 16 or 11 thousand dollars, turned it over to him, and then the youth football league comes to the sheriff’s department to report and complain about it is a matter of public concern.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the order to appeal on January 17. The Court has not scheduled a time for oral arguments yet.