If you believe that you have been defamed by a public official, should you have the right to file a defamation lawsuit? The Arizona Attorney General’s office has asked the Arizona Supreme Court to decide this issue. In January, 2007, the Arizona Court of Appeals allowed a developer to sue Attorney General Terry Goddard for defamation when he informed the media that the developer:
committed “wanton destruction of Arizona’s heritage resources.”
The Arizona Court of Appeals determined that the Arizona Attorney General’s office does not have absolute immunity to publish allegedly defamatory material when it issues a press release. Instead, the Court indicated that the Attorney General’s office is entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity only protects the acts of public officials done in good faith. This means that a citizen could sue a public official for defamation if that official acted maliciously. In contrast, absolute immunity protects all acts by public officials no matter how defamatory or malicious.
The Arizona Court of Appeals rejected the Attorney General’s suggestion that he should be absolutely immune from any allegedly defamatory comments published in the course and scope of his public duties. Do you believe that a public official should be immune from suit no matter how malicious the comments so long as the comments occurred while performing a public function? The Arizona Supreme Court will consider a Petition for Review in this case on Tuesday, May 22.