Boston Herald loses libel suit over false prison-sex story

David Frank of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reports that the Boston Herald has lost a libel suit brought by a woman who charged the paper had falsely claimed she engaged in “sexual acts” while visiting an inmate at Bridgewater State Prison in 2009. Lawyers Weekly has posted the jury’s verdict form as well.

The plaintiff, Joanna Marinova, was awarded about $563,000 in damages. According to Frank, Marinova’s lawyer, David Rich, “argued that the story was intended to sensationalize a trip that his client and Rep. Gloria Fox made to the prison to investigate alleged incidents of inmate abuse.”

Herald lawyer Peter Biagetti provided a statement to Lawyers Weekly that reads in part: “The article was meticulously researched, carefully written and extremely well-documented. We are proud of it, and of the journalist who wrote it.”

Rich was part of the legal team that represented former Superior Court judge Ernest Murphy, who won a $2.1 million libel verdict against the Herald in 2005.

Disclosure: In 2011 I moderated a panel organized by Marinova on the media and violence.

Click here for a post I wrote about the case in 2011, which included some tough words for the Herald from Superior Court Judge Raymond Brassard.

Click here for a 2009 analysis by Adam Reilly, then of The Boston Phoenix, now of WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

5:10 p.m. update: Stories have now been posted by the Herald, The Boston Globe, CommonWealth magazine and the Boston Business Journal.

And so they meet again

It’s Howard Cooper versus the Boston Herald, round two.

Cooper, you may recall, is the Boston lawyer who represented then-judge Ernest Murphy in his libel suit against the Herald, which had portrayed him as someone who had “heartlessly” demeaned a teenage rape victim. Murphy won a $2 million-plus verdict against the Herald in 2005. I don’t think Murphy was libeled, but Cooper was able to convince a jury otherwise. Here is more than you’ll ever want to know about that case.

Now Cooper is suing the Herald on behalf of Tom Scholz of the band Boston, claiming that Inside Track reporters Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa fabricated quotes attributed to Micki Delp, ex-wife of Boston lead singer Brad Delp, as well as from unnamed “insiders,” to make it appear that Delp had blamed Scholz for her husband’s suicide.

Courthouse News Service has a detailed account of the suit, though there’s a mistake in the lede — Delp committed suicide in 2007, not 1997. The story is accompanied by a copy of the complaint (pdf). I have not had a chance to do more than skim it, so I’m staying away from any detailed analysis. I do see that Cooper cites Boston magazine’s 2006 story “Gals Gone Wild,” by John Gonzalez, as example of what Cooper calls Fee and Raposa’s “unprofessional, irresponsible and reckless tactics and methods.” For good measure, Cooper calls them “so-called ‘reporters.'”

The Herald has not yet filed a response. Herald spokeswoman Gwen Gage tells the Boston Globe, “We’re aware of the complaint and we will review it. Beyond that, we have no further comment.”

In 2006 Mark Jurkowitz wrote an in-depth profile of Cooper for the Boston Phoenix (via Romenesko). The headline: “The media’s worst nightmare?” At One Herald Square, the answer to that question would be a decided “yes.”

Murphy (remember him?) is reprimanded

The gate’s still open, the horses escaped ages ago and the barn has burned down to the ground.

Nevertheless, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, at long last, ruled today that Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy committed an ethical violation by sending threatening letters on official stationery to Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell after winning a libel suit against the Herald.

I have written about this case so many times that I can’t muster the passion to do it again. Robert Ambrogi offers a few highlights as well as a link to the full decision. And here’s some Media Nation background.

Saturday morning roundup

If I were Ernie Roberts, the great Globe sports columnist, I’d tell you what I had for breakfast this Saturday morning. I’m not, so herewith a few observations about this and that.

Deval Patrick’s corporate benefactors. The drip-drip-drip over Gov. Patrick’s book proposal has been more a source of amusement than a cause for genuine concern. Today’s Globe story, in which we learn that he takes credit for the 10,000 people who turned out for a Barack Obama rally on the Common, is a hoot.

But yesterday’s Globe story properly noted a real problem — Patrick’s reliance on corporations, some of which will have business before the state, to buy books by the truckload in order to hand out to employees and clients. The impression you get is of a governor so convinced of his own rectitude that he believes he’s above the rules mere mortals have to follow.

Judge Murphy’s future on the bench. A Globe editorial today urges the state Supreme Judicial Court to suspend Judge Ernest Murphy, who was may be fined earlier this week for his bizarre and threatening letters to Herald publisher Pat Purcell after Murphy won a $2.1 million libel case against the Herald. [Correction: The Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended that Murphy be censured, suspended for 30 days and fined $25,000.]

I assume the Globe means without pay. As a Herald editorial noted on Wednesday, Murphy has been out on paid leave since sometime last year, collecting his salary of nearly $130,000. It’s hard to think of a public official who has profited so handsomely from media criticism of his performance — which, no matter how imperfectly it may have been executed, is supposed to receive the highest possible protection from the First Amendment.

Helping the fans by gouging them. The Herald goes B-I-G today with the fact that the Red Sox are auctioning off Green Monster tickets to the highest bidder, with some seats going for more than $500.

The best quote is from Ron Bumgarner, the Sox’ vice president of ticketing: “We feel it’s our civic responsibility to keep tickets affordable for fans, and at the end of the day, this helps keep other ticket prices down.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Newspaper-killing chain faces death. The Journal Register Co., known within the business as the cheapest chain on earth, is sinking in a sea of debt and is in danger of being delisted by the New York Stock Exchange. The Journal Register’s best-known paper is the New Haven Register, but it also used to own the Taunton Gazette and the Fall River Herald News, now held by GateHouse Media. It also used to own the Woonsocket Call, where I was a co-op student in the mid-1970s.

Cape Cod Today publisher Walter Brooks sent out a blast e-mail with the news, which he titled “Every tear remained unjerked in its little ducts.” No kidding.

Another slap for Judge Murphy

This has become the story that won’t die, and I’m sick of it. So take it away, Jessica Van Sack:

The Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy be publicly censured, suspended without pay for 30 days and fined $25,000 for sending two “bizarre” and “threatening” letters to the publisher of the Boston Herald.

Globe story here.

Judge Murphy’s latest money grab

Is there no end to Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy’s greed? Apparently not. Murphy is now suing the Boston Herald’s insurance company for $6.8 million merely because it allowed the paper to defend itself against the judge’s libel suit, and then allowed an appeal of the jury’s $2 million-plus verdict (Globe story here; Herald story here). Absolutely incredible.

Murphy had already managed to squander nearly all of the goodwill he’d garnered as a victim of the Herald’s sensationalistic, flawed reporting about him — first by sending bizarre, threatening letters to publisher Pat Purcell, and then, more recently, by trying to grab a disability pension to which Gov. Deval Patrick rightly concluded he wasn’t entitled. Now this.

When this all started a few years ago, I was sympathetic to Murphy, though not to his lawsuit. As a public official, he had the platform he needed to speak out and defend himself against charges he believed were unfair and inaccurate. No need to turn it into a libel case.

Unless, that is, he saw this as a chance to cash in right from the beginning.