Holly Wayment, the former TV reporter whose lawsuit against her former employers prompted a major Utah Supreme Court ruling last week, says the high court's decision will actually benefit rather than harm other reporters.

The Supreme Court ruled that Wayment is not a public figure, a key matter in defamation and libel cases.

A public figure who claims he or she has been defamed must prove that comments were made with actual malice, a high legal standard. Someone who is not a public figure must only prove negligence.

Randy Dryer, attorney for the television station Wayment has sued, last week argued that the high court ruling will hurt other reporters because it will greatly expand the pool of people who can sue reporters or media outlets under a more lenient legal standard.

"I think it will have a deleterious effect on journalists," Dryer had said. "It's just another erosion of constitutional protections."

Not so, says Wayment.

"It's a huge victory for journalists everywhere," she said from San Antonio, where she now works as a freelance writer. "This decision protects journalists. It means we're not public figures and we're protected from being abused by our employers."

Her attorney, Don Davis of Austin, Texas, agrees. "You've got to make a distinction between public and private controversies — this was a private controversy between Holly and her employers. It had nothing to do whatsoever with public controversy. It has no 'deleterious effect' on journalists.

"This is a hallmark case for reporters regaining their rights to enforce the protections their employers should give them," Davis said.

He added he was impressed by the thoroughness of the Utah Supreme Court's research and the clarity of the reasoning displayed in the 26-page decision.

Wayment, a former health reporter, sued television KTVX and Clear Channel Broadcasting, along with two managers there, Jon Fischer and Patrick Benedict. Wayment said she had been forced to resign and that the two men made defamatory remarks about her.

She alleged that managers spread rumors that she was "in bed" with one of her sources, the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and had taken money from the institute.

Wayment said she's ready for a trial. "Sometimes when something so bad happens, it's just heartbreaking and you have no choice but to fight back," she said.

She said the case is about repairing her name and reputation. Wayment said after she left KTVX it was hard to find work at first because other media outlets heard the rumors.

"This was very damaging to my reputation," she said. "I would hate for this to happen to any other journalist, to be abused by your employer and for that employer to not be held accountable."

The Supreme Court dismissed Wayment's allegations against Fischer, but because there is a dispute about Benedict, the high court said the matter should go back to district court for further proceedings.

Dryer said Benedict denies making any defamatory comments about Wayment.


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