By: Jim Rosenberg
A defamation lawsuit cost The Scranton Times L.P. $15,000 last week when a jury found in favor of Jeffrey Cammerino, a Fish and Boat Commission officer who himself was a defendant in a suit reported by The Tribune, the Pennsylvania publisher’s 33,226-circulation weekday morning paper.
According to the paper and its lawyer, the first nine paragraphs of its 12-paragraph Feb. 16, 2001, story correctly identified David Rickert as the plaintiff in a federal suit against Cammerino. Rickert alleged that Cammerino and other officials conspired to falsely arrest Rickert on assault and other charges. In the tenth paragraph, Cammerino’s name was used where Rickert’s was meant to appear. “The reader, reading the whole article, would have realized the mistake,” said Tim Hinton, attorney for the paper.
In a suit filed in December 2001, according to the paper, Cammerino said the Tribune knowingly published the false reference to him, causing him distress and causing some readers to believe he had been the person arrested.
Neither the writer nor any editor discovered the error before publication, and no correction “was ever asked for,” said Hinton, who represented the newspaper. “The story got corrected for the afternoon newspaper,” he added, referring to The Scranton Times (30,004 copies weeknights, 75,675 Sundays).
The newspaper company will not appeal, said Hinton. “The judge,” he said, “refused to apply the New York Times standard,” which sets a higher threshold than negligence in defamation cases brought against the news media by public figures. Although a public official, Cammerino’s position was part-time and unpaid.