A Libel Case with Odd Twists Begins
Fitzgerald, Mark, Editor & Publisher
The $30 million libel suit former Dallas Times Herald reporter Jack Taylor is bringing against former Oklahoma University football coach Barry Switzer continues to create odd journalistic clashes.
Most recently, a First Amendment attorney for Hearst Corp.--owner of the publishing house being sued and publisher of a dozen daily newspapers--asked for a contempt-of-court judgment against a second, and unemployed, newspaper reporter who is appealing an order to hand over notes.
Just as quickly as the contempt charge against former Times Herald sportswriter Dan Langendorf was requested, however, it was withdrawn, according to Langendorf's attorney, Chip Babcock.
Trial in the libel suit began Feb. 25. With the contempt-of-court appeals process there is a strong possibility that the demand for Langendorf's notes will become moot.
The contempt-charge withdrawal avoided yet another odd twist in what is an altogether odd libel case.
Start with the fact that it is a newspaper reporter, Jack Taylor, who is suing for libel over allegations in Switzer's ghostwritten autobiography, Bootlegger's Boy.
Taylor's former employer, the now-defunct Times Herald, thought so little of that fact, it pressured Taylor to resign. He now writes for the Los Angeles Daily News.
Anomaly number two: Taylor's suit pits the reporter against a publishing house, William Morrow & Co., which is represented by attorney Jim George.
Normally, George spends his time defending reporters associated with such Hearst-owned Texas papers as the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle or the Midland Reporter-Telegram.
Anomaly number three: As part of their defense, attorney George and lawyers representing Switzer and his ghostwritter Edwin "Bud" Shrake demanded Times Herald phone records, and the home phone records and all the notes that Langendorf had compiled while covering the troubled Oklahoma football program.
"They wanted everything I had . . . . They wanted, like, game noted," Langendorf said in an interview.
A judge refused to grant the demand for the newspaper's phone records but did rule that Langendorf would have to produce home phone records and notes, which the judge would examine confidentially to determine whether they were relevant to the case.
Langendorf is nowhere mentioned in Bootlegger's Boy, but had written on allegations against Switzer, and shared his notes with Jack Taylor.
Langendorf said he had been preoccupied with other matters when Taylor asked him for his notes.
"Jack asked for the notes on anything I had, to quote, |refresh his memory.' Had I stopped and thought about it I don't think I would have given them to him," said Langendorf, who added he still considered Taylor a friend. …