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Jewell's hopes fading 

It's looking more and more doubtful that a jury will ever hear Richard Jewell's libel suit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

One thing's for certain, though: The two sides still can't stand each other.

"[AJC attorney] Peter Canfield and I have personalized this case in a negative way," says Lin Wood, Jewell's lawyer. "He doesn't like me; I don't like him."

Last Monday was particularly disappointing for Wood, who wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a Georgia Court of Appeals decision that had dealt Jewell two blows: One, that the AJC shouldn't be forced to disclose confidential sources that were the basis of stories that revealed that Jewell was a suspect in the 1996 Centennial Park Olympic bombing; and two, that Jewell's prominent profile after the bombing elevated him to the status of "public figure."

In libel cases, distinctions between public and private figures can spell the difference between victory and defeat. Where private figures merely have to show that they were harmed by a negligent error, public figures must prove that the media outlet not only erred, but erred maliciously.

But the Supreme Court declined to hear Wood's appeal, sending the case back to the venue that first heard it -- the courtroom of Fulton County State Court Judge John Mather. Mather is now free to rule on a motion by the AJC for summary judgment to dismiss the case outright, a motion that was first introduced four years ago.

"I always was afraid that the trial court and the Georgia appellate court, which, candidly, are not sophisticated in First Amendment law because they don't deal with these cases on a regular basis -- I always thought that they might rule against Richard on that issue," Wood says.

Canfield stops short of declaring victory. But he says "the appellate process has brought a lot of clarity to the case. ... It's clear that this case didn't have any place being in court in the first place."

Wood seems to see the writing on the wall. "If Richard's case is lost on summary judgment, it will be because of the almost insurmountable legal standard that's applied to a public figure," he says. "It will not be an exoneration of this newspaper. ... If this newspaper could have exonerated itself, by proving that it was not negligent, by proving that it met journalistic standards, by proving that it had reliable sources, then you could argue down the road that a victory would be an exoneration."

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