The Boston Herald lost a libel suit to a Boston woman who the paper reported had gotten into hot water after engaging in “sexual acts” with a prison inmate while working as an aide for a state representative.
In a May 2009 Boston Herald article, reporter Jessica Van Sack suggested that Massachusetts State Rep. Gloria L. Fox had used her status as an elected official to sneak her aide, Joanna Marinova, into Old Colony Correctional Center. The purpose of the visit? A meeting between Marinova and her “boyfriend,” Darrell Jones, a convicted murder, according to the reporting. The article stated that Jones had previously been cited for “engaging in sexual acts” with Marinova.
In 2010, Marinova filed a defamation suit against the paper.
Marinova had been romantically involved with Jones. (The two later married, and then divorced.) And the Department of Corrections did cite Jones for having engaged in “sexual acts” with Marinova.
But lawyers for Marinova pointed to a number of things they said the Herald got wrong. Marinova, they claimed, was not Fox’s aide. They further alleged that the politician did not “sneak” Marinova into the prison, and that she had been cleared to visit Jones two days prior. The paper’s reporting quoted a DOC report referencing “sexual acts,” but did not mention that the incident in question involved Jones kissing Marinova and touching her knee, according to her attorneys, who went on to point out that those allegations of misconduct against Jones were dropped. Moreover, they claimed Marinova had never been “bagged” or “written up” on those charges.
On Wednesday, almost 4 years after the suit was filed, a Suffolk Superior Court jury found that the Herald’s reporting was defamatory . They awarded Marinova $563,052 in damages.
Marinova told Boston Magazine:
"In my opinion, they did what any great jury should do - search for the truth," Marinova wrote to Boston magazine in an email. "I feel completely vindicated by their verdict which clearly found that what was reported about me was false, defamatory and published by the Herald with malice."
The Herald released its own statement:
The Herald has stated since its May 28, 2009 article on a major security breach at Old Colony Prison was published that its article was entirely correct, from its headline to its last line. The article was meticulously researched, carefully written and extremely well-documented. We are proud of it, and of the journalist who wrote it. The article was not only excellent, but important, leading as it did to a Department of Corrections investigation and certain reform measures. Lawsuits like the one filed here are serious threats not only to the rights of a free and robust press, but to the rights of the citizenry that expects, and depends upon, that free and robust press. The Herald fully expects to ultimately prevail in this matter.
Jeffrey Pyle, a trial lawyer specializing in media law, weighed in on media critic Dan Kennedy’s blog:
The takeaway for journalists is pretty clear: when you're reporting on official documents or proceedings, feel free to quote even their most salacious allegations. But, don't ignore important elements of those proceedings, like a dismissal, or the fact that only one and not two people were charged. When you do, and the article hurts someone's reputation, it's easy for even a public figure to win a libel suit. The jury here found not only that the Herald's reporter was negligent, but that she published the statements with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.