$3 Million Libel Verdict 'Struck Down,' Judge says No 'Actual Malice' in Ne

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(credit: Virginian-Pilot, screenshot)

As we wrote earlier, daily Virginia newspaper the Virginian-Pilot was found guilty of libel and ordered to pay $3 million to local school assistant principal Phillip Webb over a 2009 story that his son also sued over.

But, the newspaper appealed the verdict and the May ruling was “struck down,” by a circuit court judge this week, the Virginian-Pilot announced in its own report on the ruling. Jeremiah Denton, lawyer for Webb, told the newspaper he “plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.”

Denton explained to the Virginian-Pilot:

“The judge set the verdict aside. He said there was no clear and convincing evidence of actual malice, and I disagree with that.”

The Virginian-Pilot’s editor Denis Finley told iMediaEthics by email, “All I want to say about it is we are happy with the judge’s ruling and believe we will prevail in an appeal.”

Webb and his son separately sued the newspaper over “the same Dec. 18, 2009, story” by the Virginian-PilotThe Virginian-Pilot’s managing editor Maria Carrillo told iMediaEthics in May that the newspaper “voluntarily took the story down some time ago.”

According to the newspaper’s May story on the libel case, the article reported on a 2008 “assault” in which Webb’s sons Kevin and Brian were both “convicted of misdemeanor assault.”

The father, assistant principal Phillip Webb, sued over reporting “his son was not disciplined by the school system after the boy’s arrest for felony assault,” and claimed that “the article falsely implied he had obtained preferential treatment for his son.”

His son, Kevin Webb, sued the newspaper for libel arguing the newspaper “falsely accused him of the bullying.”  Denton explained to iMediaEthics that a jury awarded Kevin Webb $5 million, but a judge “threw out” the money figure, and that instead of “going back to trial” the newspaper and Kevin Webb settled.  Student Press Law Center has more background on the original article in its 2011 report on Kevin Webb’s lawsuit.

We have written to Denton for more information and will update with any response.

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$3 Million Libel Verdict ‘Struck Down,’ Judge says No ‘Actual Malice’ in Newspaper the Virginian-Pilot’s Story

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