Lawsuit against Calif. campus newspaper editor dismissed

Saturday, January 29, 2011

BERKELEY, Calif. — A court has dismissed a small-claims lawsuit filed against a college newspaper editor by the father of a deceased University of California-Berkeley football player.

Harvey Purtz sued Rajesh Srinivasan, executive editor and president of The Daily Californian, last October, claiming the editor intentionally inflicted emotional distress by refusing to remove from the newspaper’s online archives a 2006 article and two 2007 blog posts. The articles were about Chris Purtz’s October 2006 altercation at a San Francisco adult club and his suspension from the football team. Chris Purtz died in June 2010.

In a Jan. 26 decision, Assistant U.S. Attorney and judge pro tem Mark Cullers ruled against Harvey Purtz, who was seeking $7,500 for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Fresno Bee reported that Cullers dismissed the lawsuit, “citing a two-year statute of limitations and also that Harvey Purtz did not have standing to bring the civil suit related to a deceased relative.”

The Fresno podiatrist had argued the October 2006 article was a “major triggering event” in his son's life that led to his dropping out of school and contributed to his mental deterioration. The Fresno Bee reported on Jan. 19 that “when the acting judge asked the parents how Chris had died, they would not say for the record. The father, Harvey, went forward and whispered to Cullers, telling him the specifics of his son's disorder and his death. They do not want that information to be public.”

According to The Daily Californian, Harvey Purtz contacted Srinivasan in October 2010, asking the editor to remove the article and blog posts from the newspaper’s online archives, because they “inflict harm” on his son’s memory. Purtz and Srinivasan exchanged e-mails over the matter, with the editor telling Purtz that because of the newspaper’s policies, he could not honor the request.

“We do not retract online articles unless they meet the standard for retraction,” Srinivasan was quoted by The Bee as saying. “The truth is, you can't erase history, and that article is part of UC Berkeley history, for better or for worse.”

The newspaper’s board of directors chair Allen Matthews was quoted by College Media Matters in a Jan. 18 report as saying: “I’m sorry about the family’s loss, but grief is not an excuse for Dr. Purtz to file a reprehensible claim against the current student editor, who was in high school when the original article appeared.”