How will ruling in Scholz lawsuit affect the Herald?

A Superior Court judge’s ruling in the messy legal aftermath of Boston singer Brad Delp’s suicide represents a setback for Boston founder Tom Scholz, the Boston Herald reports. But what effect it will have on Scholz’ libel suit against the Herald itself is unclear.

Judge John Cratsley dismissed Scholz’s suit against Delp’s ex-wife, Micki Delp, ruling that Scholz failed to prove she had defamed him. Relying in part on quotes from Micki Delp, the Herald’s Inside Track reported shortly after Brad Delp’s 2007 suicide that she blamed her ex-husband’s death on Scholz.

But Cratsley’s decision goes on to say that some of the Herald’s reporting that might be found libelous was not traceable to Micki Delp:

While Micki’s statements speak to Brad’s “dysfunctional professional life,” … it is the Boston Herald writers who create the connection to Scholz and the possible implication that Scholz was responsible for the “dysfunction” and thus, Brad’s suicide.

Cratsley said that Micki Delp made six statements to the Herald (two of which she denied having made) and that those statements were about her ex-husband and his state of mind — not about Scholz. “The Herald writers, for whatever reason, added Scholz’ name and his quotes [in response to Micki Delp’s statements],” the judge wrote. “So if there is any possibility that the article is ‘of and concerning’ Scholz, it is the Herald writers’ doing.” (“Of and concerning” is a reference to one of the legal standards for proving libel.)

As I wrote earlier this year, it would have a chilling effect if the Herald were held liable for statements by Micki Delp whose veracity the newspaper had no reason to doubt. But if Scholz’ lawyer, Howard Cooper, is able to show that the Herald libeled him on its own, without any reliance on Micki Delp, then that would be another matter entirely.

I realize this is all a bit murky. I hope one of our legal bloggers takes this on in the next day or so.

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