More on Virginian-Pilot Libel Case: Reporter Didn't 'Omit Any Truthful Info

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A screenshot from the recent opinion. Highlight added

We wrote last week when a judge “struck down” an assistant principal’s $3 million libel verdict against the Virginian-Pilot over a 2009 story that he said “falsely implied he had obtained preferential treatment for his son,” who had “convicted of misdemeanor assault.”

The assistant principal Philip Webb’s lawyer, Jeremiah Denton, told the Virginian-Pilot that he didn’t agree with the court’s ruling that “there was no clear and convincing evidence of malice.”

We asked Denton about the ruling.  Denton told iMediaEthics that “we will appeal within days” and that “I really cannot itemize the evidence of malice, but it is all in the record, as well as my post trial brief in opposition to the motion to strike (which you can get from the court), and it is referred to to some limited extent in the Judge’s letter opinion.”  He provided that opinion to iMediaEthics.

In that opinion, Judge Randall D. Smith wrote that “for purposes of this analysis, I will side with Plaintiff and hold Plaintiff may benefit from the circumstantial inference that everyone intends the results of their voluntary acts.” But, he wrote that “plaintiff’s evidence did not establish actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.”

The opinion notes that Webb “concedes that the factual statements are true” but “believes that it is the implication which is defamatory.”  The judge explained that the article “implied that a great injustice took place and invites the reader to question the justness of the result” and “a fair inference could be that because Kevin Webb’s father is an assistant principal, he received preferential treatment.”

The 2009 article Webb sued over was by the newspaper’s Louis Hansen and reported on Webb’s son’s “sentencing for misdemeanor assault and trespass convictions,” a 2011 Virginian-Pilot report explained.

The judge noted that Webb “refused to be interviewed” and that Hansen “did not omit any truthful information he was given during his investigation for the article.”

Further, the judge wrote that “the evidence is fatally void of any facts to support the premise that Hansen ever entertained serious doubts about what he wrote or implied” and that there wasn’t shown any “actual or constitutional malice by clear and convincing evidence.”

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More on Virginian-Pilot Libel Case: Reporter Didn’t ‘Omit Any Truthful Information,’ Judge Says

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