Va. weekly finds it doesn’t pay to complain about libel verdict
It might be a long time before The Voice criticizes the judicial system again.
In late March, the small weekly newspaper published in Richmond, Va., was hit with two libel lawsuits resulting from a March 2010 editorial lamenting a $125,000 verdict entered against the newspaper in another defamation case. In the suits, the judge and the opposing attorney claim that the editorial falsely suggested that they committed crimes and violated ethical rules during the original defamation case.
In the editorial, which was written by Voice President Jack Green, the newspaper complained that it had presented “a bevy of information” proving that the letter to the editor that spawned the first suit was accurate. “Unfortunately,” the editorial continued, “the judge and the jury in the case did not feel the same way.”
The editorial then offered the newspaper’s belief that the letter to the editor had been intended as opinion, not fact.
“We never cover opinion as news, and we believe that such a clear separation is what has allowed us to become Virginia’s largest Black-oriented newspaper,” the editorial stated. “We were naïve in thinking that this fact alone would lead to a victory in a civil case we had deemed frivolous. We did not take into account the politics played in the courtroom — between judges and counsel — and the maneuverings of counsel who treat facts casually.”
In their libel lawsuits, Judge Melvin Hughes and attorney Wayne Barry Montgomery claim that these statements falsely charged that they were unfit to perform their employment duties and a lack of integrity and further suggest violation of criminal laws and ethical rules. Each is suing The Voice for $350,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.