Tom Scholz loses libel case against Boston Herald

Brad Delp

Tom Scholz, founder of the band Boston, lost his libel suit against the Boston Herald on Wednesday. Suffolk Superior Court Judge ­Frances McIntyre ruled that the Herald’s reporting on what drove Scholz’s former bandmate Brad Delp to suicide was a matter of opinion, which is protected speech under the First Amendment. Boston Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.

Delp killed himself in 2007, and the Herald’s “Inside Track” gossip columnists, Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, subsequently reported that Delp’s ex-wife Micki Delp blamed his death on his falling-out with Scholz. I have not had a chance to read McIntyre’s decision, but according to the news coverage, she ruled that Micki Delp could not prove that she did not make that statement, and that, in any case, what led to Brad Delp’s suicide was a matter of opinion.

Raposa recently left the Herald to pursue other interests.

Scholz is reportedly considering an appeal. I hope he won’t. On the face of it, McIntyre’s decision seems like a sound one. As a public figure, Scholz would have to prove the Herald knew that its report was false, or that it strongly suspected it was false and published it anyway. By citing the opinion privilege, McIntyre removed the dispute beyond the realm of fact and into an area of speech that enjoys full constitutional protection. Enough.

Earlier coverage.

Photo (cc) by Craig Michaud and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Globe versus Herald: Brad Delp edition (II)

Two days after the Boston Globe published a lengthy story by arts reporter Geoff Edgers questioning the Boston Herald’s defense in a libel suit brought by Tom Scholz, leader and founder of the band Boston, the Herald has struck back.

Edgers’ article, based on court documents, centered on the notion that Boston lead singer Brad Delp committed suicide in 2007 because he’d been caught placing a camera in the bedroom of his fiancée’s sister, Meg Sullivan. Scholz sued the Herald after Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, the paper’s Inside Track gossip columnists, wrote that Delp’s ex-wife Micki Delp blamed the suicide on Scholz’s abusive behavior. (Last year a judge dismissed Scholz’s suit against Micki Delp, ruling she had done no such thing.)

The Herald’s Joe Dwinell today counters Edgers’ story with a statement from Sullivan blasting the Globe and Scholz:

The article printed recently in the Boston Globe seems to imply that Brad took his life because he was so horrified at the idea of confessing to my sister what he had done. The article neglects to print the fact that Brad had already told her about the incident. Quite contrary to what the article implies, Brad’s fear of the repercussions from the event between us was not the reason that he decided to end his life. They had discussed it and were dealing with it together as the loving couple they were….

Based on what I know, what I observed, what Brad told me before he took his life, what Brad told others before he took his life and several pretty clear facts, I do not believe that this incident was what led Brad to take his life. I am sorry, and I am outraged, that Mr. Scholz has treated Brad’s family and friends the way he has in the 5 years since Brad’s death, filing lawsuits, threatening lawsuits, serving subpoenas and forcing all of us to relive one of the most traumatic events of our lives. Whether he does this in order to obtain publicity, out of a penchant for bullying those without the resources to fight back, or for other reasons, I do not pretend to know.

Dwinell also writes a sidebar noting that Edgers appeared on television to discuss the case in February 2011 and, according to Dwinell, “seemed to endorse Scholz’s claims against the Herald.”

Since Edgers’ journalistic integrity is now being questioned, I should note that I worked with him at the Boston Phoenix some years back and considered him to be a good, reliable reporter. I now work with his wife, Carlene Hempel, at Northeastern.

Dwinell does not dispute the accuracy of Edgers’ reporting on court documents regarding the hidden-camera incident. And Edgers himself noted on Sunday that Sullivan believed Scholz had contributed to the depression that caused Delp to engage in such behavior.

As I wrote two days ago, “Libel suits contain many twists and turns.” The only thing we can be sure of is that if this ever goes to court, it’s going to be one hell of a trial.

Earlier coverage.

Globe versus Herald: Brad Delp edition

Brad Delp in 2006

In case you missed it, the Boston Globe uncorked a high, hard one at the Boston Herald on Sunday.

The Globe’s Geoff Edgers reported on court documents that strongly suggest the 2007 suicide of Brad Delp, lead singer of the band Boston, was tied to Delp’s having been caught placing a hidden camera in his fiancée’s sister’s bedroom. The documents portray Delp, who had long suffered from depression, as being distraught over the incident. He killed himself a little more than a week later.

The Herald is fighting a libel suit brought by Boston founder and leader Tom Scholz over a story in the paper’s Inside Track gossip column, which reported that Delp’s ex-wife, Micki Delp, had blamed the singer’s suicide on his poisonous relationship with Scholz.

Superior Court Judge John Cratsley dismissed Scholz’s suit against Micki Delp last August, ruling that though Micki Delp had spoken about her late husband’s “dysfunctional professional life,” it was the Herald that “create[d] the connection to Scholz” and thus his suicide.

Last Wednesday the Herald’s Joe Dwinell wrote about court documents in which friends of Delp portrayed Scholz as an abusive tyrant who belittled the other band members — behavior that reportedly sent the sensitive Delp into a deep depression. As Edgers noted in his Globe story, the Herald account makes no recognizable mention of the hidden camera.

Edgers quoted from a statement released by Herald spokeswoman Gwen Gage in which she hailed her paper’s “accurate and excellent” coverage of the libel suit and criticized the Globe for letting “journalistic rivalry getting the better of editorial judgment.”

Libel suits contain many twists and turns, and the court papers Edgers cited do not necessarily contradict the theory that Scholz’s allegedly abusive behavior led Delp to kill himself.

For instance, Edgers noted that the fiancée’s sister, Meg Sullivan, at one point said, “I believe that Tom Scholz and Boston caused the depression which caused Brad to put a camera in my bedroom.”

Earlier coverage.

Photo (cc) by Carl Lender and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Judge upholds fair-report privilege in Herald case

Sounds like musician Tom Scholz is really reaching as he pursues his libel suit against the Boston Herald.

Scholz, as you may know, claims that the Herald’s “Inside Track” gossip column libeled him by reporting in 2007 that Micki Delp had said Scholz bore some responsibility for the suicide of her ex-husband, Brad Delp. Scholz was the founder and leader of the band Boston, and Delp was the lead singer.

Apparently Scholz also charged that the Herald libeled him by reproducing parts of those articles in reporting on his lawsuit against the paper when he filed it in 2010. One problem: the articles were an official part of the lawsuit.

Which means that the Herald had every right to report on the contents of those 2007 articles accurately, even if they ultimately are proved to be libelous. Which means, too, that Superior Court Judge John Cratsley dismissed Scholz’s complaint about the 2010 articles yesterday. As the nationally renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told the Herald:

It’s a complete victory based on deeply rooted principles of English and American law. It’s a privilege of the press to publish a fair account of just about anything that happens in court. Without that right, the public would never know what goes on in court.

The fair-report privilege is a vital protection for the press. Because of the privilege, for instance, a reporter may write about what takes place at a city council meeting without having to worry whether someone might have said something libelous.

As Abrams (and Cratsley) notes, court proceedings are covered by the privilege as well. I still recall reporting on a rather outrageous allegation someone had told me he’d included in a lawsuit he’d filed. The Boston Phoenix’s lawyer flagged it before publication. I double-checked, showed my editor the language in the lawsuit and the lawyer told us to go ahead and publish.

The Herald is still at risk over its 2007 reports. Cratsley recently dismissed Scholz’s suit against Micki Delp, ruling that the statements at issue were solely the Herald’s responsibility. Yesterday’s ruling, though, was a victory not just for the Herald, but for the First Amendment — and all of us.

The Boston Globe covers yesterday’s ruling here. Earlier coverage of the Scholz lawsuit here.

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.