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Kevorkian Case: Appeals court dismisses defamation suit

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Editor's Note: As part of CNN.com's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from CourtTVNews.com. This story was first published in 1999.

(Court TV) -- Calling him "libel proof," a Michigan appeals court Monday dismissed Dr. Jack Kevorkian's defamation suit against two medical groups that called him a killer in their literature.

Kevorkian, serving a 10-to-25-year second-degree murder sentence for his role in Lou Gehrig's disease patient Thomas Youk's videotaped death, filed suit against the American Medical Association and the Michigan State Medical Society in 1995. In the suit, the retired pathologist and leading assisted suicide advocate sought $10 million, alleging that the two organizations libeled him in a November 1995 AMA press release that called him "an instrument of death engaging in criminal activity."

Kevorkian's suit also claimed that Dr. M. Roy Schwarz, AMA group vice president, libeled him in a November 1995 article in The Detroit Free Press. In that article, Schwarz said, "We [the AMA] believe very strongly that you can't be a killer and a healer both."

At the time of the alleged libelous statements, Kevorkian was facing murder charges in two assisted-suicide cases. (He was eventually acquitted in those trials.) Both the AMA and Michigan State Medical Society claimed their statements were protected under the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and that the suit should not go to trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals sided with the medical organizations and claimed the alleged libelous statements could not damage Kevorkian's already infamous reputation as "Dr. Death."

"[Suits like this] should be dismissed where an allegedly libelous statement cannot realistically cause impairment of reputation because the person's reputation is already so low," the three-judge panel said in the 2-to-1 ruling. "We find that, as to the issue of assisted suicide, the plaintiff is virtually 'libel proof.'"

Kevorkian's lawyer, William McHenry, said he would appeal the ruling to state Supreme Court. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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