Blade aims to cut legal damage

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By: Jim Moscou


For The Blade’s top boss, being sued by the city’s police back in 1990 didn’t come as much of a surprise.
For most of the previous year, two of the Toledo, Ohio, paper’s reporters, Sam Roe and Dave Murray, were preparing to publish an investigative series identifying local police involved in serious misconduct ? allegations the paper based upon thousands of internal affairs department files it obtained legally in the wake of a then-recent Ohio court ruling.
The most disturbing charge was that police officers were committing alleged crimes ? such as domestic abuse, assault, driving while intoxicated, and even rape, but were neither charged nor arrested by the police internal affairs department.
“There was a long list of incredible misdeeds by cops that would have resulted in big problems if you or I had committed them,” said John Robinson Block, co-publisher and editor in chief of The Blade. “We needed to show internal affairs was a long-standing, whitewashing operation.”
And that’s what the paper did in a series titled, “The Secret Files of Internal Affairs.” In response, eight police officers and two wives of police officers filed libel and invasion-of-privacy lawsuits that amounted to nearly a hundred legal claims and requested damages topping out at nearly 30 million dollars.
For Block, it was a legal headache, but little more. He felt the stories were airtight and the allegations frivolous. Still, even after the claims were thrown out by the original trial judge in 1997, and rejected in every state appellate court thereafter, the plaintiffs persisted in going to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Finally, on Nov. 1, the high court refused to hear the lawsuit, ending a decade of litigation for the paper. Or so it seemed. Blade executives said they are now taking aim at the former plaintiffs and will in the coming weeks seek to recover more than 1 million dollars in attorneys’ fees from the plaintiffs and/or their attorneys.
In suggesting the lawsuits were frivolous, Blade executives point to the fact that the internal affairs documents were clearly public records and, therefore, fair game for publication. And, Block added, the motivation appeared to have been political.
Meanwhile, the police officers’ attorney stands by his case.
“I think [The Blade’s] claim might be frivolous,” said George Rogers, a Toledo-based attorney who represented the officers and wives. “Facts were wrong. Evidence they claimed was wrong. Stories were inaccurate and sloppily prepared.”
(Editor & Publisher [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher November 6, 1999) [Caption]

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