Calif. appeals court sides with writer in fight with newspaper

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reported Sept. 29 that the defamation suit filed against American Journalism Review writer Susan Paterno had been dismissed. The trial court to which the case had been remanded agreed with the appeals court that the Santa Barbara News-Press owner had failed to show any of Paterno’s statements to be false, RCFP said, and in late September dismissed the case under California's anti-SLAPP statute.

LOS ANGELES — A state appeals court has ruled in favor of a magazine writer
who reported on turmoil at the Santa Barbara News-Press, saying she will
not have to submit to a discovery process by the newspaper's lawyers.

The 4th District Court of Appeals ruling clears the way for Susan Paterno to
have the newspaper's libel lawsuit against her dismissed, said her lawyer
Charles Tobin.

“It's a total vindication of Susan's reporting and it's a ringing endorsement
of a free press,” Tobin said. “We will have to go back to the trial judge from
here and he will have no choice but to dismiss the lawsuit.”

The June
13 ruling
said the newspaper had failed to prove that three contested
passages in Paterno's story were false. The story titled “Santa Barbara
Smackdown” appeared in the December 2006-January 2007 issue of the American
Journalism Review.

The passages described the killing of a story about the editorial page
editor's drunk driving sentence; a workplace restraining order against a former
employee; and the publisher's cutting of newsroom staff benefits.

“The plaintiff fails to demonstrate the allegedly defamatory statements are
provably false factual assertions,” the ruling states. “No good cause exists to
conduct discovery concerning actual malice.”

The ruling, written by Justice Richard Aronson, orders the Orange County
Superior Court to reverse its decision that would have allowed discovery to

Paterno directs the journalism program at Chapman University in Orange,
Calif., and is a senior writer for the American Journalism Review, which
is published by the University of Maryland.

Stanton Stein, the lawyer for Ampersand Publishing LLC, which publishes the
News-Press, did not respond to a message seeking comment in time for this

Ampersand sued Paterno for libel, but she sought to dismiss the lawsuit and
recover her legal fees under California's anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuits
Against Public Participation — law, which is aimed at preventing the silencing
of critics through lawsuits.

The sides are scheduled for a hearing in the Orange County court on July

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