On certification to the Superior Court, Law Division, whose opinion is reported at 180 N.J. Super. 459 (1981).
For reversal -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Pashman, Clifford, Handler, Pollock and O'Hern. For affirmance -- Justice Schreiber. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pashman, J. Schreiber, J., dissenting.
This interlocutory appeal concerns the extent to which the New Jersey Shield Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-21, protects against compelled disclosure of sources, editorial processes and other confidential information in a libel action. In Maressa v. New Jersey Monthly, et al., 89 N.J. 176 (1982), decided today, we hold that the Shield Law privilege not to disclose such information in a libel action is absolute. Defendants in this case did not waive the privilege. We therefore reverse the trial court order, 180 N.J. Super. 459, compelling disclosure of privileged information.
This action began after an article entitled "Surrender in Atlantic City" appeared in the May 1979 issue of New Jersey
Monthly magazine. The article describes the hearing process through which plaintiff Resorts International, Inc. (Resorts) obtained the first permanent license from the Casino Control Commission to operate a gaming casino in Atlantic City.
The thrust of the article was that the hearings concerning Resorts' application were a charade designed to make Resorts "look clean," despite "a plethora of evidence" establishing that it was a "mismanaged, unscrupulous, mob-tainted company with the morals of an alley cat." The article described Resorts' alleged attempts to secure statewide referenda on casino gambling, its alleged contribution of $250,000 to the pro-casino campaign, and its alleged payment of retainer fees and campaign contributions, some unlawful, to lawyers and politicians involved in the casino law's drafting and passage. The article's author, Michael Dorman, concluded that "it would be an insult to the intelligence of anyone present to pretend that these proceedings resembled serious regulatory deliberations."
On May 30, 1979 an attorney for Resorts wrote to the editor-in-chief of New Jersey Monthly to demand an immediate retraction of what he described as Dorman's "scurrilous, libelous and defamatory" article. The letter identified approximately 40 paragraphs that allegedly contained inaccurate statements. No retraction was published.
This action was filed in the Superior Court, Law Division on April 18, 1980, on behalf of Resorts and its wholly owned subsidiary, Resorts International Hotel, Inc. The suit named as defendants New Jersey Monthly, NJM Publishing Company, Dorman, the magazine's publisher, editor-in-chief, editor, and several John Does. Conceding that it was a public figure for purposes of the litigation, Resorts contended that defendants published the allegedly libelous statements in wilful or reckless disregard of the truth. The defendant's answer raised separate defenses including opinion as fair comment, good faith and lack of malice.
In June 1980 plaintiffs served upon the defendants interrogatories and demands for the production of documents. Plaintiffs
sought a wide range of information, including all notes, memoranda, rough drafts, editorial comments, source names, telephone bills and other documents concerning the allegedly libelous article. While answering some questions and producing some documents, defendants responded to ...