Jury to hear lawsuit against Paxton newspaper

PAXTON — A Ford County jury will hear a civil lawsuit filed by the headmaster of a Catholic boarding school in Georgetown against the Paxton newspaper.

Rev. Michael McMahon of the Notre Dame de La Salette Boys Academy sued The Paxton Record and its publisher, The News-Gazette Inc., claiming the weekly newspaper defamed him when it published a letter to the editor in April 2011 in support of gay rights that erroneously identified him as the author.

On Monday, Judge Paul Lawrence denied a motion by attorney Don Craven, who is representing The Paxton Record and The News-Gazette, for summary judgment to dismiss the case.

“There are significant issues, and they need to be resolved by a jury,” Lawrence said.
Craven argued that Paxton Record Editor Will Brumleve believed the letter to be authentic and did not understand the purported author of the letter was a church official. The letter included an address and telephone number and was signed, and Brumleve had never heard of the newspaper having a problem with receiving fake letters to the editor.

Craven argued for summary judgment for several reasons:

— Craven said the Paxton Record was a re-publisher of the letter and there was no evidence of actual malice on the part of the newspaper or its employees.

“Even if this court determines that Mr. Brumleve’s prior practice of not verifying the authenticity of letters to the editor was less than thorough, his failure to confirm that (Rev. McMahon) had authored this letter was not motivated by actual malice,” Craven said.

Garrett Carter, an attorney for Rev. McMahon, responded the priest does not need to prove the newspaper acted with malice.

— Craven argued the courts have ruled that the republication of otherwise potentially defamatory statements which are of public interest, as long as the publisher is disinterested or neutral, is protected by Neutral Reportage Privilege.

“Brumleve testified that he chose to publish the letter because he had just recently reported on obstacles same-sex couples faced in celebrating civil unions,” Craven said.

Carter responded that the letter is not protected by Neutral Reportage Privilege because he said the newspaper bears the burden of proving that the letter accurately conveyed information about Rev. McMahon.

— Craven argued that, in light of Catholic doctrine concerning homosexuals, the letter could be construed innocently.

The case is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in January.

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alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 17, 2014 at 12:06 am
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Headline idea:

"Reverend defends self against allegations of tolerance"

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on June 17, 2014 at 11:06 am

...now, about that vow of poverty?

wayward wrote on June 17, 2014 at 11:06 am

The "Catholic" boarding school is actually associated with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a traditionalist group that has no canonical status within the Roman Catholic Church.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_St._Pius_X .

A copy of the LTE that started the lawsuit is at http://i.imgur.com/4QzrrCB.png .  It reads like it could have been written by a poorly-informed high school student playing a prank.  Sort of like ... oh I don't know ... one of the students from Notre Dame de Salette Boys Academy?  Seriously, who'd use the phrase "alternate love/sex orientation?"

Skepticity wrote on June 21, 2014 at 2:06 pm

It would appear that if the paper published a letter from the Reverand Michael McMann in which he denied authorship, and the paper also published a short column noting that they had published a letter falsely attributed to said Reverand, the remedy would have been provided.  Unless the paper itself forged the letter, which is not alleged and for which no evidence has been produced, I don't see any standing for this lawsuit.

Someone must think there is money in this lawsuit, and that the paper may settle to avoid the lawsuit.

Perhaps criminal charges of identity theft could be investigated and made by the State's Attorney against the  forger/identity thief?  Fingerprints on the letter, perhaps?

The paper apparently published an unsolicited letter to the editor.  They did not gather the information in the course of investigation for a story, which would require corroboration.  I do not believe that the law places a burden upon newspapers to investigate every signed letter to the editor that is received.  If the letter is false, it is the writer of the letter who has committed the offense.  

The lawsuit should be against the author of the letter, the person who falsely represented themself as being the Reverand.

Pressing this lawsuit only damages the Reverand's credibility and his commitment to his religious beliefs beyond the damage done by the publication of the letter. 

If the court determines that newspapers must thoroughly verify all letters to the editor, we may as well do away with them.