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While a publisher may defend itself against a public disclosure cause of action by proving that the matter was newsworthy, it is misleading to assert that said defendant has the burden of proving newsworthiness to be free from tort liability. The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the publication was not privileged, i.e., that it was not newsworthy. Of course, defendants may rebut plaintiff's showing with evidence that the matter was newsworthy.
Respondent Toni Ann Diaz chose to undergo a sex change operation which she was happy with, but kept the surgery a secret. Appellant columnist, Sidney Jones, wrote a published article for appellant publisher, Oakland Tribune, Inc., revealing that respondent was a transsexual. Respondent filed suit against appellants for invasion of privacy, claiming the article contained embarrassing private facts that were unwarranted, malicious, and caused emotional distress. The trial court awarded compensatory and punitive damages to respondent and denied a motion for new trial. Appellants challenged the decision, arguing that the trial court misinstructed the jury on the right to privacy and that appellants had the burden of proving newsworthiness.
Did the trial court commit prejudicial error in giving two jury instructions, thereby warranting the reversal of the judgment in favor of the respondent?
The appellate court reversed the judgment, holding the trial court misinstructed the jury on the right to privacy and on the burden of proving newsworthiness, which were prejudicial errors. The right to privacy instruction required a "compelling public need" for the intrusion, which was too high a standard that abridged the constitutional right of free speech and press. On the newsworthiness instruction, it was misleading to assert that appellants had the burden of proof. Respondent had the burden of proving the publication was not privileged or newsworthy, but appellants could rebut the showing with newsworthiness evidence.