(CN) – A former college student can sue the prosecutor who approved a search of his home during an investigation of whether he libeled a professor in his online journal, “The Howling Pig,” the 10th Circuit ruled.
The appeals court in Denver reversed dismissal of former University of Northern Colorado Thomas Mink’s lawsuit against Weld County prosecutor Susan Knox.
A federal judge had ruled that Knox was shielded by government employee protections, but the federal appeals court disagreed, saying Mink could pursue his claim.
Mink says Knox violated his constitutional rights by authorizing the search warrant without probable cause. He claims that no reasonable officer would have thought his column was libelous.
Mink had used the fictional character “Junius Puke” to narrate an editorial column on his blog, “The Howling Pig.” The editorials included altered photographs of well-known UNC professor Junius Peake, wearing dark sunglasses and a Hitler-like mustache.
They also covered subjects and used language that Peake “surely would not have,” the ruling states, such as: “This will be a regular bitch sheet that will speak truth to power, obscenities to clergy, and advice to all the stoners sitting around watching Scooby Doo,” and “I made it to where I am through hard work, luck, and connections, all without a college degree.”
Peake was not amused. He contacted Greeley police, who began investigating a potential violation of Colorado’s criminal libel law.
Knox then reviewed and approved the search warrant for Mink’s home.
Though no libel charges were filed, the 10th Circuit said Mink could proceed with his lawsuit against Knox, because no reasonable person would think the editorials had actually been written by Peake.
“The Howling Pig” editorials contained a disclaimer stating that professor Junius Peake “is an upstanding member of the community as well as an asset to the Monfort School of Business, where he teaches about microstructure. Peake is active in many community groups, married and a family man. He is nationally known for his work in the business world, and has consulted on questions of market structure. Junius Puke is none of those things and a loudmouth know-it-all to boot, but luckily he’s frequently right and so is a true asset to this publication.”
Based on the record, Judge Stephanie Seymour said the allegedly defamatory comments “constituted satire in its classic sense.”
The court reinstated Mink’s constitutional claims and remanded.
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