HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) The Hiroshima High Court on Thursday more than halved to ¥3.6 million the compensation owed by Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto to four lawyers for remarks he made in 2007 scorning their tactics in defending a convicted murderer.

Hashimoto, himself a lawyer, was ordered last October by the Hiroshima District Court to pay the lawyers ¥8 million for defamation and obstructing their business stemming from remarks he made on a 2007 TV show before he was elected governor, criticizing the lawyers’ arguments and calling on viewers to campaign for them to be punished.

Presiding Judge Satoshi Hirota ruled that Hashimoto, who was a TV celebrity at the time, acted illegally by calling for punishment of the lawyers. But the judge did not recognize his remarks as defamation as the lower court had.

“Mere criticism of defense counsel activities cannot be a reason for punishment. It is illegal in the sense (that Hashimoto’s call) failed to meet the purpose of the punishment system,” Hirota said.

After the talk show was aired in May 2007, more than 2,500 requests for punishing the lawyers were filed with the Hiroshima Bar Association, but the association took no action.

The incident prompted the four to seek ¥12 million in damages from Hashimoto, saying his comments obstructed their business.

The district court ruled that Hashimoto defamed the plaintiffs by saying on the TV show they had “built up” their client’s arguments in the murder case, but the high court decided the comments cannot be taken to mean the lawyers “created” their client’s arguments and so are not defamatory.

Hashimoto has already paid ¥8.56 million in damages plus arrears to the lawyers to avoid a greater financial burden from the annual interest charge of 5 percent. But he brought the case to the appeals court “to listen to a higher court’s opinion.”

He made the comments in question after the lawyers took on the defense of a man being retried for the murder of the 23-year-old wife of company employee Hiroshi Motomura, now 33, and their baby girl at their home in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1999.

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