Ohio recognizes that certain statements constitute defamation per se. These statements are so egregious that they will always be considered defamatory and are assumed to harm the plaintiff's reputation, without further need to prove that harm. Ohio has a broad definition of defamation per se. In contrast to most states, which limit defamation per se to three or four specific categories of statements, Ohio defines the term as any statement that "reflects upon the character of [the plaintiff] by bringing him into ridicule, hatred, or contempt, or affects him injuriously in his trade or profession.” Becker v. Toulmin, 138 N.E.2d 391, 395 (Ohio 1956). A statement can constitute defamation per se only if it conveys its negative meaning directly, not by innuendo or implication.

Public and Private Figures

A public official is a government employee or official whose position has such apparent importance that the public has an independent interest in the qualifications and performance of the person who holds it, beyond the general public interest in the qualifications and performance of all government employees. See Scott v. News-Herald, 496 N.E.2d 699, 702 (Ohio 1986). Ohio courts have found law enforcement officials to be public officials, including a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, a university police officer, a bailiff, a chief probation officer, and the chief of the criminal section of a city law department. Other examples of public officials include a county treasurer, a county engineer, a municipal law director, a city council member, and members of the Board of Education.

In defining all-purpose and limited-purpose public figures, Ohio courts follow Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 345 (1972). All-purpose public figures are those who have achieved pervasive fame and influence. Examples include celebrities, professional athletes, and similarly famous people.

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