Catholic priest agrees to take Paxton Record suit to Ford County
DANVILLE — The headmaster of a Catholic boarding school in Georgetown who filed a civil action against the Paxton newspaper will make his case in the weekly newspaper's home county now.
The attorney for the Rev. Michael McMahon of the Notre Dame de La Salette Boys Academy on Tuesday agreed to transfer his client's lawsuit against the Paxton Record and its publisher, The News-Gazette Inc., from Vermilion County Circuit Court to Ford County.
"We're confident with any county that will ultimately be the venue for this case," said John P. Lynch Jr. of Cremer, Spina, Shaughnessy, Jansen & Seigert LLC of Chicago.
Once it's transferred, "we'll just sort of begin anew there," Lynch said.
The suit, which seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages for each of its four counts, originally was filed in Vermilion County.
It alleges the Paxton Record defamed McMahon when on April 6, 2011, it published a letter to the editor in support of gay rights that erroneously identified him as the author. The letter purports to be from a Michael McMahon who is identified as president of the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Association of Vermilion County, which lists the academy's address and phone number as its own.
The suit claims that weekly newspaper didn't contact McMahon or the academy to confirm the letter's authenticity before running it. It also claims that McMahon didn't write the letter or lead the group — which doesn't exist, according to the suit — and that the letter's views directly contradict the headmaster's.
In May, Donald M. Craven PC, the Springfield firm representing The News-Gazette Inc., filed a motion to transfer the litigation to Ford County — about 30 miles north of Champaign — which the firm regards as the proper venue.
Under Illinois statutes, libel actions must commence "where the defendant has its principal office or where the article was printed," attorney Esther J. Seitz wrote.
In addition to having its principal office in Paxton, the county seat of Ford County, Seitz wrote that the letter wasn't printed in Vermilion County, the Paxton Record's principal place of business isn't in Vermilion County "nor is it published or widely circulated there."
In his response to the motion, filed on June 8, Lynch argued that Vermilion County was the appropriate venue. However, he later changed his position.