Rep. Gloria Fox

The Boston Herald has been hit with a libel suit for the second time this year. The Boston Globe’s David Abel reports that the plaintiff is Joanna Marinova, who accompanied state Rep. Gloria Fox, D-Boston, to the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater last year.

The Herald published a front-page story on May 28 by Jessica Van Sack claiming Fox had snuck Marinova in to see her boyfriend, a convicted murderer named Darrell Jones, and that Marinova had been “previously bagged for engaging in ‘sexual acts’ with the killer con.” The Herald cited “two prison sources,” both anonymous.

Marinova sued the Herald and WHDH-TV (Channel 7), which also ran the story, saying through her lawyer, David Rich, that the news organizations “blatantly ignored readily available facts that would have demonstrated the falsity of these assertions.”

According to Abel, the Herald declined to respond and no one at Channel 7 would return his calls.

As with a libel suit recently brought against the Herald by Tom Scholz of the band Boston, it makes sense to wait and see what’s in the Herald’s and Channel 7’s official response. In this case, though, Adam Reilly did some reporting last year for the Boston Phoenix that cast considerable doubt on (1) the Herald’s claim that Fox had falsely portrayed Marinova as her aide and (2) that Marinova and Jones had engaged in illicit sex during a prison visit.

Reilly, now a producer with “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), noted that Marinova had told the Globe that the so-called sexual contact for which Jones had been punished consisted of Jones touching her knee during a visit. And Reilly pointed to other sources, including Jones’ blog and an official report, that tend to support that version of events.

If the Herald’s and Channel 7’s reporting was wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean they committed libel. Even though it is Marinova who’s suing, it’s Fox’s involvement that made this a newsworthy story. A judge could rule that because Fox is a public official, Marinova must prove that the Herald and Channel 7 either knew their reporting was wrong or strongly suspected it, yet went ahead anyway — a legal standard known as “reckless disregard for the truth.”

On the other hand, a judge could rule that because Marinova herself is a private person, then she need only prove that the defendants acted negligently.

Looking down the road, I would imagine that Marinova will try to force the defendants to reveal their confidential sources as well.

Needless to say, this will be a very interesting case to watch.