Libel in brief

Former student plans appeal in suit against Colo. prosecutor

COLORADO -- A former University of Northern Colorado student will appeal a federal judge's decision to dismiss his lawsuit against a prosecutor to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Thomas Mink is contending that a deputy district attorney wrongfully issued a warrant to search his home and seize his computer while investigating a criminal libel accusation against Mink in 2003.

A professor at the university, Junius Peake, had alleged that doctored photos and parody columns that Mink published in his online journal, The Howling Pig, defamed Peake. Susan Knox, the deputy district attorney, approved a search warrant for Greeley police to investigate Mink, but her office never pressed any charges.

Mink filed his lawsuit in 2004, arguing the state's criminal libel law and the investigation violated the First Amendment. He also said Knox owed him damages for her role in reviewing the search warrant application.

The federal district court refused to address the criminal libel statute's constitutionality, ruling that Mink could not contest the law because he was never charged under it. An appeal was unsuccessful on that claim, but the appeals court allowed Mink to continue his case against Knox.

In district court in June, Judge Lewis T. Babcock ruled that Knox was entitled to qualified immunity, which generally protects most public officials from being sued for actions performed as a part of their official duties.

A reasonable official in Knox's position could believe that the statements in The Howling Pig were not protected statements under the First Amendment and could violate the state's criminal libel law, justifying the warrant, Babcock concluded. Mink filed a notice to appeal in July.

Case: Mink v. Knox, No. 08-1250 (10th Cir. appeal docketed July 15, 2008), appealing from No. 04-00023 (D. Colo. June 28, 2008).

Fall 2008, reports