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.