Judge’s Libel Suit Against Boston Paper Goes to Jury

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(AP) A jury began deliberations Monday in a judge’s libel lawsuit against the Boston Herald over stories depicting him as lenient with criminals and insensitive to victims.

Judge Ernest Murphy sued the tabloid and four of its reporters after the Herald published the series of articles, including one in which Murphy is quoted as saying, “Tell her to get over it,” in reference to a 14-year-old rape victim.

Murphy, 61, insists he never made the comment. The newspaper has stood by its reporting.

Jurors deliberated for just over half an hour Monday afternoon and were scheduled to reconvene Tuesday morning.

Murphy, a Superior Court judge based in New Bedford when the articles were published in 2002, claims the reports by David Wedge and others were malicious.

The Herald’s attorney, M. Robert Dushman, told the jury in his closing argument that freedom of the press is a carefully protected right, and that any distress that the Herald articles caused Murphy should not sway their decision.

Dushman acknowledged “minor errors” in some of Wedge’s reporting, but said he did a solid job overall.

Because Murphy is a public figure, the jury must be convinced that the Herald maliciously reported material its reporters knew was false, a higher standard than the requirement a nonpublic figure must meet to win a libel case.

Murphy’s attorney, Howard M. Cooper, said Wedge’s work was shoddy and that he fabricated a “sensationalized, supermarket tabloid story” with the goal of getting public exposure and selling more papers.

Cooper said Wedge knew that what he was reporting was wrong, opted not to check his stories with people who could debunk them, and relied on sources in the Bristol Country prosecutor’s office who had a “vendetta” against Murphy.

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