William A. Smith, J.s.c. (specially assigned).
This is a civil action based on 14 counts, the first 13 of which seek to recover damages for alleged libels, and the 14th count charges a conspiracy primarily based on the alleged libels, claiming that the defendants conspired to injure the plaintiffs through libelous publications.
The articles charged libelous are based on publications in the Bergen Evening Record , a newspaper published in Hackensack, New Jersey, and these publications were occasioned by the Republican primary campaign in Bergen County in the Spring of 1951.
The parties plaintiff are lawyers who are engaged in a partnership practice and all or most of them were particularly interested in the support of certain candidates in the Republican primary referred to, and the defendant newspaper was supporting certain opposing candidates in said primaries. The plaintiff, Ralph W. Chandless, is a former state senator and has held other political offices, and is attorney for certain municipalities in Bergen County. Ernest Weller was the city attorney of Hackensack. Julius E. Kramer was Republican candidate for the Assembly on the ticket supported by Mr. Chandless. John Frank, Jr. was a candidate for mayor of Garfield on the "Anti-Organization Ticket." Dominick Fondo was assistant city attorney of Hackensack, city prosecutor and counsel of the city parking authority.
The defendants are the Bergen Evening Record Corporation, whose business is the publication of the Bergen Evening Record , John Borg, the chairman of the board of directors of the corporation, Donald G. Borg, the editor of the newspaper, Rossman H. Wynkoop, the managing editor of the paper, and one, Arthur A. Kron, not officially connected with the paper, and who was the campaign manager of the candidates supported by the Bergen Evening Record. Mr. Kron is mentioned only in the 14th count of the complaint and he is there charged as being engaged in the conspiracy charged.
The alleged libelous publications are contained in one article of the paper's publication of March 16, 1951, two articles of the publication of March 26, 1951, and one article of the publication of March 29, 1951. None of the quotations from the articles charged as libelous quotes the entire article in any count, but the plaintiffs quote portions of the articles and charge these as libelous, charging in various counts that the words were used in a defamatory sense, intending falsely and maliciously to convey, and that they did convey, that the plaintiffs were and had been guilty of various improprieties, such as unprofessional practice of
their profession, harmful and improper influence in the government and courts of the county, and commission of criminal offenses. The relief asked for on the argument of this motion, which was on behalf of all of the defendants, was to strike each and every count of the complaint on the ground that they failed to state a claim upon which the plaintiffs are entitled to relief, and for summary judgment (Rules 3:12-2 and 3:56), and for failure to comply with the rules of this court (Rule 3:41-2). The defendants also ask, if the complaint is not stricken, that the plaintiffs be required to consolidate the counts which refer to the same publication, so that the publication should be considered as one libel and not separated into various libels, and that each of the plaintiffs be required to separate his respective claims into separate counts.
All of the defendants except Arthur A. Kron are referred to in the first 13 counts charging libel, and the court will not consider Mr. Kron as a party to these 13 counts. Kron, as has been stated, is a party to the 14th count, but the Bergen Evening Record Corporation, owner of the publication, is not a party to the 14th count.
In considering the articles published, it is important to consider what occasioned the publication of the articles challenged in the complaint. At the time of the publications there was a political campaign on for the nomination in the Republican primaries for candidates for public office in Bergen County, and the plaintiff Chandless was interested in the campaign for the nomination of the so-called "Anti-Organization Ticket." His partners were politically interested, as has been stated, and the newspaper was supporting the "Organization Ticket."
The first count is directed at an article published in the issue of March 16, 1951, entitled Candidate's Law Firm Handles Bookie Charges, and sets forth two paragraphs, not consecutive, which read as follows:
"Surrender of the fifth of seven men indicted Tuesday in connection with a large-scale telephone bookie operation here focused attention
on the fact that so far a majority of the indicted seven have been represented by a law firm which includes a candidate for Assembly on the insurgent Republican 'Clean House in Bergen' ticket.
"Vasile was represented by John Frank, member of the law firm of Chandless, Weller, Kramer and Frank. Also a member of the firm is Julius Kramer, candidate for Assembly on the Republican insurgent ticket. Another member of the firm is Dominick Fondo, Hackensack City Prosecutor and brother of Anthony Fondo, Republican City boss and controller with Ridgewood publisher Bennett Fishler of the insurgent slate."
This count recites that the plaintiffs were actively engaged in the practice of law under the firm name of Chandless, Weller, Kramer and Frank, and claims they were damaged in their profession, and that former associates in business and society of the plaintiffs and each of them have refused and still refuse to have any transactions or discourse with the plaintiffs. The count further alleges that the words were used in a defamatory sense in that the defendants intended falsely and maliciously to convey, and did convey, that the plaintiffs "were and had been guilty of unprofessional practice of their profession as lawyers."
No special damage is alleged. Special damages would have to be alleged in the event that recovery was sought by the partnership for compensatory damages. No such claim has been made. The court, on the argument, raised the question that, as there was no special damage alleged, if the partnership was going to seek damages as such, they would have to separate their claims in a separate count for the purpose of alleging special damage to the partnership, and to the court's inquiry Mr. Chandless, who argued the motion, said, "I don't see any need for it," and the court ruled that the question of amendment was settled.
The title of the action does not set forth a suit as a partnership and, as has been stated, this count does not allege a claim for damages on account of losses to the partnership, and the court will treat the charges of the counts, where based upon the claims made by the plaintiffs, together in any one count as claims not being alleged on behalf of
the partnership. This consideration will also apply to the other counts in which the plaintiffs are joined.
The second count is by all of the plaintiffs and is based on an article published in the issue of March 26, 1951, entitled It's Chandless Plot, Says Regular G.O.P., with sub-title Wants to Grab Control of County, Charges Kron. This article consists of 18 paragraphs, running from page 1 to page 2, but the only paragraphs referred to in the count are the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, which are set forth in the complaint as follows:
"From the day that Mr. Chandless was expelled from the New Jersey Senate for his part in the Lodi Township sewer scandal he has made repeated unsuccessful attempts to get back into power in the Republican party through the back door. This time he has conceived a clever, but bold scheme to seize control of the Republican Party and our County government. The evidence of his reappearance in politics is established by these facts:
1. Julius Kramer, a law partner of Mr. Chandless, is a candidate for Assembly on the anti-Organization ticket.
2. Anthony Fondo, Hackensack's ruthless political boss and faithful Chandless lieutenant, helped to pick the candidates on the anti-Organization ticket and has publicly endorsed all of them.
3. Dominick Fondo, brother of the Hackensack boss, is associated with Mr. Chandless's law office and is heading up the Hackensack machine in support of the anti-Organization ticket.
4. Malcolm Mercer, candidate on the Chandless ticket, is attorney for the Hackensack City Parking Authority, a job created for him by Boss Fondo.
5. John Frank, another of Mr. Chandless's law partners, is a candidate for Mayor of Garfield on the Chandless anti-Organization ticket."
This count charges that the publication was intended falsely and maliciously to convey, and did convey, the understanding that the plaintiffs were and would be a harmful and improper influence in the government and courts of the county in which they, as practicing attorneys, were and would be engaged in their practice.
The 3rd count is brought by all of the plaintiffs and is based upon an article published in the issue of March 29, 1951, under the heading Chandless Denies Picking Insurgent G.O.P. Ticket, and is part of an article appearing on the
first page of said publication and carried over to the fifth page of said publication, and consisting of approximately two columns. It, in part, publishes a statement made by Mr. Chandless in the form of a letter to Mr. John Borg of the Bergen Evening Record in reply to an editorial in that paper under date of March 26, 1951, and closes with this statement:
"I shall expect you to publish this letter in full with equivalent prominence in your next issue."
This count then quotes as the basis of the libel charged the second paragraph of the ...