Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Appeals Court Dismisses Libel Case Against Herald

The state Appeals Court today issued an opinion dismissing a libel case brought against the Boston Herald and reporter Michele McPhee. The plaintiff, Edmund LaChance Jr., an incarcerated prisoner, alleged he was libeled by three articles McPhee wrote about online “dating” by incarcerated felons.

The defendants conceded that the articles contained three inaccuracies:
  1. That LaChance had been convicted of manslaughter. In fact, he was convicted of rape, aggravated rape, armed robbery, kidnapping, indecent assault and battery, and assault by means of a dangerous weapon. 
  2. That he claimed in his online ads to be in prison for manslaughter.
  3. That he had committed a “brutal sexual attack on an elderly woman.” 
A Superior Court judge had granted summary judgment dismissing the case and, in today’s opinion, the Appeals Court affirmed that dismissal.

The case is notable for three reasons:
  • The court held that LaChance was a “public figure” for purposes of libel law because, by placing his ads online and making deceptive assertions in those ads, he had injected himself into a matter of public concern, “specifically the dangers of interacting with violent felons online.”
  • Even though the stories contained inaccuracies, they were not “actionably false” within the meaning of libel law because “publication of the plaintiff’s actual criminal record … would have been, at the very least, equally as damaging to the plaintiff’s reputation in the mind of a reader.”
  • The court affirms the applicability of the “fair reporting privilege,” a privilege that protects the publication of information taken from judicial, legislative or other official proceedings. The newspaper’s report that LaChance had committed a sexual assault on an elderly woman was based on the incorrect statement in a court docket that he had committed an “assault and battery on an elderly person.” Because the newspaper had no way of knowing the docket was incorrect, its reporting of that information was privileged, the court said. 
If you’d like to read the full opinion, it is here: LaChance v. Boston Herald.

Monday, February 14, 2011

AG to Hold Regional Trainings in Open Meeting Law

The Division of Open Government within the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley has scheduled a series of seven regional training sessions in the state's new open meeting law, which took effect last July. The training sessions are open to any member of the public.

Here is the schedule:
March 2, 2011 - 7PM-9PM
Place: Brookline High School
Address: 115 Greenough Street, Brookline, MA

March 23, 2011 - 6PM-8:30PM
Place: Harmony Hall
Address: 1660 Lakeview Avenue, Dracut, MA

April 6, 2011 - 6PM-8:30PM
Place: Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School
Address: 415 Center Street, Bridgewater, MA

May 11, 2011 - 6PM-8:30PM
Place: Nessacus Middle School
Address: 35 Fox Road, Dalton, MA

May 18, 2011 - 6PM-8:30PM
Place: Barnstable Town Hall
Address: 367 Main Street, Hyannis, MA

May 25, 2011 - 6PM-8:30PM
Place: Northampton High School
Address: 380 Elm Street, Northampton, MA

June 1, 2011 - 6PM-8PM
Place: Worcester Public Library
Address: 3 Salem Square, Worcester, MA
More information is available on the AG's website.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

New England First Amendment Coalition to Honor Anthony Lewis

The New England First Amendment Coalition will present its first lifetime achievement award Feb. 11 to Anthony Lewis, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and former columnist for the New York Times.

Lewis spent 50 years at the Times, as a reporter and columnist. He received his first Pulitzer in 1955 for reporting on the government's loyalty program and his second in 1963 for coverage of the Supreme Court. He is the author of five books, including, Freedom for the Thought We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment.

The NEFAC lifetime achievement award recognizes individuals whose career contributions further the understanding of First Amendment rights. The award honors work that represents the highest standards of journalism and demonstrates a commitment to informing and educating the public.

The award will be presented at a luncheon at the Boston Park Plaza in conjunction with the winter convention of the New England Newspaper and Press Association.

Tickets to the luncheon can be purchased through the NEFAC website or through NENPA's website as part of registration for its conference.