The powers that be over at the headquarters of the Inquirer and Daily News are surely breathing sighs of relief. Last week, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa Rau entered a judgment against rightfully feared Center City attorney Dick Sprague (pictured, left), who filed a libel lawsuit against the Daily News and then-columnist Jill Porter in 2010.
The suit centered on Porter’s 2009 article “Law, Duty, and Truth” about Sprague’s feud with his onetime client, State Senator-turned-prison inmate Vince Fumo (pictured, right). Porter’s article began like this:
Sprague may have reveled in plunging the blade into his now-enemy Vince Fumo this week. But he didn’t do himself any favors.
Sprague, once Fumo’s beloved mentor and best friend, labeled Fumo a liar when he testified at Fumo’s trial this week. But he acknowledged that he was something of a liar, too.
Sprague admitted that after Fumo was indicted in 2007, he made statements to the public and to a congressional committee that he didn’t believe were true.
Porter went on to call Sprague’s conduct “underhanded and immoral”, clearly fighting words when you’re talking about a man who won a $34 million libel judgment (later reduced to $24 million) against the Inquirer years ago.
This time around, Sprague hired attorney James Beasley, Jr., whose father handled Sprague’s Inquirer suit, to hit Porter and the Daily News with the claim that Porter’s accusations were “false and were maliciously published with knowledge of their falsity or reckless disregard for their truth and with reckless indifference to Mr. Sprague’s good name and reputation.” In other words, libel.
The case was delayed due to the newspapers’ bankruptcy but came to an end with a simple one-page order from the court on Friday, May 17th, declaring victory for Porter and the Daily News on all counts.
Neither Sprague nor Beasley was immediately available for comment or to indicate whether they intend to appeal. But knowing Sprague’s history of prolonged litigation (the Inquirer suit dragged on for more than two decades), I wouldn’t count Sprague out just yet. Of course, he is in his mid-80s.
“I’m not entirely relieved, since there’s still the chance of an appeal,” says Porter, who has left the chaos of the newsroom behind in favor of a freelance career. “But I am gratified and delighted. It should have been dismissed at the outset. It was totally groundless and ridiculous.”
[Sprague/Fumo photo-illustration by Sean McCabe]