The Law: Is S.O.B. Slander?

A Minnesota lawyer named Martin Beatty was incensed last year when a member of the planning commission in the town of Winona called him a son of a bitch three times—prefaced by the adjectives "little" and "goddam." The occasion was a public debate over an urban-renewal plan that may affect a building owned by Beatty. After the controversy Beatty filed a slander suit against the name-caller, Jerry Papenfuss.

In throwing out that lawsuit, the Minnesota supreme court recently ruled that calling a public figure an s.o.b. is not in itself defamatory. While Papenfuss's remarks displayed some ill will, said the court, Beatty...

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