State High Court Will Decide Key Issue in Iranian Hostage Plotkin’s Libel Suit
The California Supreme Court has agreed to determine whether a Sherman Oaks man who was one of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran was a public figure or private citizen for purposes of his libel suit against a San Fernando Valley newspaper.
Jerry Plotkin, 57, sued the Daily News for $60 million in damages in response to a story published the day after his release Jan. 20, 1981, suggesting that he was under scrutiny by federal officials for any hint that he was involved in drugs in Iran.
The court agreed Thursday to hear an appeal by the newspaper challenging the ruling in February of this year that Plotkin was still a private citizen, not a public figure.
If he had been considered a public figure for the libel action, Plotkin would have to show that the Daily News acted with malice toward him or recklessly disregarded the truth.
As a private citizen he does not have to show he was the object of malice.
In its appeal, the newspaper argued in documents filed with the court that “when Plotkin was taken hostage in Iran he was catapulted to the forefront of public attention and into the midst of issues of paramount importance and concern to the American public.”
Plotkin, an insurance adjuster, was among 52 Americans taken hostage Nov. 4, 1979, in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held for 444 days.
To bolster its argument that Plotkin was a public figure, the newspaper argued that while in captivity he participated in a televised Christmas message urging the return of the deposed shah to Iran.
Daily News attorney Daniel Fogel also indicated in court papers that Plotkin kept himself in the public eye through efforts to sell his story for book publication or television rights. He also gave interviews and had access to the media to respond to the news report.