Sunday, October 5, 2008

Defamation Suit: Osaka Governor

"A Hiroshima court Thursday ordered Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto, who is known for his sharp tongue, to pay 8 million yen in damages for a comment he made on television when he was a practicing lawyer and TV personality. The ruling basically said he was unfit to be a lawyer.

"In May 2007, Hashimoto commented on a 1999 murder case in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Hashimoto criticized the defense lawyers for the accused, who was a minor when he killed a mother and her infant daughter, and called on viewers to file complaints for disciplinary action against the team if they agreed with him that the defense arguments were absurd fabrication.

"The remark triggered a barrage of requests for punitive measures against the defense lawyers, who, in turn, sued Hashimoto for damages. The Hiroshima District Court on Thursday ruled in favor of the lawyers. It stated that Hashimoto "does not have a proper understanding of the mission and responsibilities of lawyers who protect the basic human rights of minorities."

"He should be ashamed of his behavior.

"The accused in the Hikari murder case initially admitted to the charges against him in the district and high courts and was sentenced to life in prison. However, the Supreme Court decided that the life sentence was too lenient and referred the case back to the Hiroshima High Court, where the accused, then 27, reversed his testimony and denied he intended to kill the victims or attacked the woman to rape her.

"Referring to the reversed testimony of the accused during his appearance on the TV show produced by Osaka-based Yomiuri Telecasting Corp., Hashimoto blasted the lawyers.

"He called on the pubic to demand local bar associations to take disciplinary action against the defense lawyers, adding that "if many people filed complaints, bar associations would have no choice but to punish them."

"With regard to Hashimoto's remarks, the Hiroshima District Court noted that it is not uncommon in criminal cases for the accused to change his or her testimony. Given that Hashimoto is a lawyer, it said he should have avoided jumping to conclusions on whether the testimony was fabricated by the defense team. It added that his remarks were groundless and constituted libel.

"We doubt Hashimoto really understands that it is the job of lawyers to defend the interests and rights of their clients. Just because methods of defense teams do not meet generally accepted common sense or Hashimoto's personal views, it is not right for a lawyer to incite the public to file requests for punitive measures against them.

"In the Hikari case, TV reports that one-sidedly blasted the accused and his defense for reversing testimony and denying his intent to kill were aired one after another. The Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics of the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) harshly criticized the making of such programs, saying they deviate from the principle of fairness.

"It is a matter of course that broadcasters are to blame for airing such biased programs. But the responsibility of Hashimoto, who appeared on TV as a legal expert, is even more serious. His controversial remark set off a move on the Internet to seek punitive action against the lawyers and led to an unusual situation in which a total of more than 8,000 complaints were filed across the nation.

"After the ruling, Hashimoto apologized to the defense lawyers but at the same time, he said he intended to appeal. If he seriously accepts the ruling, he should not appeal. Moreover, he should voluntarily surrender his qualification as a lawyer. If the public sees his apology only as a token gesture, they could also question his qualities as a governor."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 10/3/2008), Link to article (last visited 10/5/2008)

No comments: