$2 Million Libel Award to Mass. Judge Upheld
A $2 million damages award to a state court judge who was falsely reported to have told lawyers involved in the case of a 14-year-old rape victim to “tell her to get over it” was upheld today by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy denied ever making the statement, which Boston Herald reporter Eugene Wedge testified that he initially heard third-hand, from lawyers not involved in the conversation, but later confirmed with a lawyer who was present. A jury found in 2005 that the newspaper libeled Murphy in several articles three years earlier. As required to support the damages award, the Supreme Court today upheld the jury’s finding that the articles were published with actual malice or in reckless disregard of the truth, reports the AP.
Although the fourth estate has a right and a duty to examine and criticize the judicial branch, it “is not free to publish false information about anyone (even a judge whose sentencing decisions have incurred the wrath of the local district attorney), intending that it will cause a public furor, while knowing, or in reckless disregard of, its falsity,” the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.
Counsel for the newspaper and reporter said they would issue a statement about the ruling later.