Supreme Court exonerates Osaka governor in murder case libel suit
(Mainichi Japan) July 15, 2011

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Supreme Court on Friday repealed a high court decision ordering Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto to pay 3.6 million yen in compensation to four lawyers in connection with a high-profile 1999 murder case.
Hashimoto was sued in 2007, prior to becoming Osaka governor in 2008, by the four lawyers who defended a minor convicted of killing a 23-year-old woman and her baby girl in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1999.
The defense lawyers sued Hashimoto for libel, for comments the Osaka governor made during a 2007 TV show about the trial. Hashimoto said the defense team had composed the statement spoken by the defendant during a crucial phase of the trial when he denied killing with intent. Hashimoto then urged viewers to campaign for the Hiroshima bar association to punish the lawyers for their tactics.
In the ruling Friday by the Supreme Court's second petty bench, Justice Yukio Takeuchi said while Hashimoto acted in a thoughtless manner, he did not directly seek punitive action against the plaintiffs and he only urged viewers to act on their own judgment.
"It is inevitable that defense activities in such a high-profile case face criticism, and it cannot be said the mental pains the plaintiffs suffered are beyond their tolerable limit," Takeuchi said.
In 2008 the Hiroshima District Court ordered Hashimoto, himself a lawyer, to pay 8 million yen in damages to the plaintiffs for defamation and illegal action.
In 2009 the Hiroshima High Court partially reversed that lower court decision and slashed the damages award to 3.6 million yen. The High Court rejected the plaintiffs' argument on defamation but determined that Hashimoto acted illegally in calling for their punishment.
The high court ruling prompted both sides to appeal it to the top court.
The defendant in the murder case, whose name has been withheld because he was a minor at the time of the crime, was convicted and sentenced to death. He has appealed that sentence to the Supreme Court.