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Court dismisses case against Uecker, Brewers

Bob Uecker

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A Wisconsin appeals court on Wednesday rejected a defamation lawsuit filed against the Milwaukee Brewers and the team's radio announcer Bob Uecker.

The District 2 Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit filed by Ann Ladd of Prospect Heights, Ill., who claims she has been unfairly portrayed as Uecker's stalker. In so doing, the court adopted a new legal standard in Wisconsin that will limit lawsuits over allegedly defamatory communications.

Uecker alleged in 2006 that Ladd had harassed and stalked him for years. He said she repeatedly sought his autograph, sent him unwanted gifts and appeared at ballparks to see him and even one hotel where he was staying for a road series.

Ladd was charged with felony stalking, but the case was dropped after a court commissioner granted a four-year restraining order requiring her to not contact him or attend games where he is working.

Ladd sued in 2008 alleging she was defamed by Uecker's legal affidavit spelling out the stalking allegations and its publication on a Web site called The Smoking Gun, among other things. She has contended her behavior never rose to the level of criminal stalking, and the "stalker" label has damaged her reputation.

The Brewers and Uecker argued the case must be dismissed because Ladd waited past the two-year statute of limitations before she sued. She responded that, because the statements were still widely available on the Internet, the information is republished each time someone visits the site or others that contain them.

The three-judge appeals court rejected her argument, saying Uecker and the Brewers have no control over information once its on the Internet.

"We reject the notion that each 'hit' or viewing of the information should be considered a new publication that retriggers the statute of limitations," Judge Harry G. Snyder wrote for the panel, which did not consider the merits of Ladd's claims.

With the ruling, the court adopted the "single-publication rule" that says people can sue for defamation only over an original publication but not each time something is republished. In other words, the statute of limitations starts running when an article is published or a statement is made and not each time they are reprinted or read.

The standard had been widely adopted across the country to govern lawsuits over traditional media publications, but never in Wisconsin, said Madison attorney Robert Dreps, who often represents news media clients. The court not only adopted the standard Wednesday but said it extended to the Internet.

"This is a wonderful decision. It's very good for the press," Dreps said. "It's surprising it's taken this long to get adopted here, but it's of good value."